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Las Vegas police officer who died rescuing hiker is remembered

July 24, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • David Vanburkirk, 36, in a photo from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
David Vanburkirk, 36, in a photo from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police… (AP )

It is a dangerous job requiring the skills of an acrobat with the desire to help people. He had done it dozens of times before, but this time a Las Vegas police officer’s successful rescue of a stranded hiker cost him his life.

When the alarm sounded Monday night about a hiker in danger, Las Vegas police officer David Vanbuskirk and his crew jumped into a helicopter and flew to a rocky ledge in an off-limits area near Mount Charleston northwest of the city. Vanbuskirk, a 13-year veteran of the department, donned his harness and went to work, officials said at an emotional news conference on Tuesday.

Vanbuskirk was lowered to the ledge, then linked the unidentified hiker to the rescue harness. The hiker was lifted to the airborne safety of the craft, but something went wrong on Vanbuskirk’s return and he plunged into the canyon, the first officer to die on duty since 2009, officials said. The cause of the accident is being investigated.

“This officer dedicated his life to saving people, and that act ultimately cost him his own life,” Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said.

Gillespie said Vanbuskirk had performed dozens of rescues similar to the one that killed him Monday. Las Vegas rescue workers have completed 130 helicopter rescues in the past 12 months, officials told reporters.

The scene of the accident is above Mary Jane Falls. Officials said they believe the hiker became disoriented, then became stranded on the ledge, which could only be reached from the air.

A wildfire has been burning in the area for three weeks, and some of the trails have been closed to protect hikers from ash and debris. The area of the accident had been marked by warning signs telling hikers to stay away or face possible fines.

Las Vegas police have been wearing black bands over their badges to honor their fallen comrade.

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.

 “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.”

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