LAS VEGAS (AP) – A Las Vegas police officer who was rescuing a hiker stranded in an off-limits area of a mountain northwest of the city died after falling from a helicopter hoist line Monday night.
At an emotional news conference Tuesday, police offered new details about the accident that killed search and rescue officer David Vanbuskirk, 36, at Mount Charleston.
Rescuers responded shortly before 9 p.m. to reports that a hiker was disoriented and stranded on a rocky ledge just above Mary Jane Falls. The area was marked with signs warning hikers to stay out or face fines, according to Jay Nichols, spokesman for Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.
A wildfire now entering its third week has been burning in the area, and park workers have closed some trails in the interest of public safety. The fire is still throwing off smoke and glows at night, Nichols said. Some trails are closed to protect hikers from smoking material, ash pits and falling trees. On Monday night, conditions were breezy with a bright moon, officials said.
After landing, Vanbuskirk attached a safety harness to the stranded man, who was hiking alone. He signaled to the four rescue workers in the helicopter above to hoist them both up from the craggy ledge, but then somehow detached from the line in midair and fell a “non-survivable” distance to the ground below, officials said.
The hiker was safely rescued and is being interviewed, police said.
The mood was somber among officers, who have not lost one of their own in the line of duty since 2009. Officers Tuesday wore black bands over their badges in honor of their fallen comrade.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies are investigating.
“We’re a big family, a close family, and this is going to be trying on us for quite a while,” Las Vegas police Assistant Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters shortly after the accident. “We will survive it. We’ll come back together, and hopefully in my lifetime, it will never happen again.”
Vanbuskirk grew up in the Las Vegas area, was married and lived in Henderson. He had worked for the department since 1999, and had served on the search and rescue team since 2007.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said Vanbuskirk had performed “dozens” of rescues like the one that killed him Monday. Las Vegas rescue workers have completed 130 helicopter rescues in the past 12 months.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said Vanbuskirk’s death was “a tragic reminder of the dangers our first responders are exposed to on a daily basis.”
“His service to his community, state, and country will not be forgotten,” Sandoval said in a statement.
On Twitter, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada called Vanbuskirk a hero.
Others in the police department also praised him.
“He was an exceptionally fine officer,” police spokesman Bill Cassell said.
Associated Press writer Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
- 6 of the biggest skin cancer myths
- Affordable small home makeover ideas
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy
- 6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
- CrossFit dangers: 5 common injuries and how to deal with them
- Today's radiation treatments offer better success, fewer side effects
- Tips to make watching TV on the patio even better
- What really happens when you donate to a community college?
- Sun and skin cancer: Separating fact from fiction
- 5 critical lifestyle changes for a healthy colon