LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas police officers wearing olive search-and-rescue fatigues gripped a church lectern Monday, choking up as they remembered a colleague who died last week saving a hiker stranded on a mountain ledge.
Co-workers described David Vanbuskirk, 36, as a disciplined and humble man who rose before the sun, refused to take off his wedding band for training exercises and returned to the hospital the day after rescues to check on people he had saved.
“He was absolutely the best of us,” said Sgt. Gavin Vesp, who was Vanbuskirk’s supervisor. “He was a phenomenal human being.”
The auditorium at Central Christian Church, which seats 2,900, was near capacity for Vanbuskirk’s funeral. The church’s upper seating section was a sea of police officers in tan, many wearing a black stripe across their badges as a reminder of the death.
Authorities are still investigating how Vanbuskirk died performing a maneuver he’d done dozens of times before. The officer was on the search-and-rescue team since 2007 and worked for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department since 1999. National Transportation Safety Board officials said they expect to release their preliminary report later this week.
Rescuers responded shortly before 9 p.m. July 22 to reports that a hiker was disoriented and stranded on a rocky ledge just above Mary Jane Falls. A wildfire had been burning in the area, and park workers closed some trails.
After landing, Vanbuskirk attached a safety harness to the stranded man. Vanbuskirk signaled to the rescue workers in the helicopter to hoist him and the hiker from the ledge. But the officer somehow detached from the line in midair and fell.