LE ROY, Ill. (AP) _ The eldest son of artificial heart recipient Jack C. Burcham said his father's death Wednesday night at Humana Hospital Audubon should not raise questions about the future of the implant program.

''I don't think it (the death) had anything to do with the operation,'' Jack B. Burcham said in a telephone interview. ''I really feel that dad was probably too weak'' to have survived.

''Jack and I were really great friends, I feel real badly about this,'' said Le Roy Mayor Jack Moss shortly after hearing of Burcham's death. ''I was watching 'M-A-S-H' on TV when they broke in with a special bulletin.''

He said townspeople had been buoyed by recent news reports of Burcham's progress, adding that his death ''really surprised everybody.''

Reached at home late Wednesday night, Le Roy Police Chief James Sandage, an old friend of the Burcham family, said he hadn't heard the news.

''I'm very shocked,'' he said. ''I thought things were going well.''

Burcham's son said family members at the hospital in Louisville called him to tell him of his father's death.

Burcham said he believed his father's condition was not as strong going into the transplant as doctors had indicated. Before the operation, doctors had said the elder Burcham was the strongest of the artificial heart recipients.

''I really feel that he was in sad shape,'' Burcham's son said.

But the son said he doesn't think the operation was a waste.

''I would say absolutely not,'' he said, adding that he was glad his father was able to undergo the pioneering transplant that was his only chance for survival.

''I think everybody should have a chance to have a heart.''