This undated photo released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. shows search & rescue officer David Vanbuskirk, 36, who died last night, when he fell during the helicopter rescue of a stranded hiker. Vanbuskirk, became separated from the hiker at some point during the rescue and fell from a cliff. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.)
Photo credit: The Associated Press
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 press conference Tuesday, police offered new details about the accident that killed search and rescue officer David Vanbuskirk, 36, at Mount Charleston.
Rescuers responded around 9 p.m. Monday to reports that a hiker was stranded on a ledge just above Mary Jane Falls. The area was marked with signs warning hikers to stay out for 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 still throws off smoke and glows at night, Nichols said, and hikers could encounter smoking material, ash pits and falling trees on the closed trails.
Vanbuskirk had attached the harness to the hiker and signaled the helicopter above to hoist them both up when he somehow detached from the line 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 wore black bands over their badges Tuesday in honor of their fallen comrade.
"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 media 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.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies are investigating.
Associated Press writer Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.
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