No Equipment Abnormalities in Vegas Rescuer Death

By MICHELLE RINDELS | August 1, 2013

Investigators have found no abnormalities in a Las Vegas search-and-rescue officer’s harness or in the hoist that was pulling him up to a helicopter when he fell to his death while rescuing a hiker, authorities said in a report Tuesday.

But officials with the National Transportation Safety Board emphasized that the short summary on the July 22 accident that killed David Vanbuskirk was preliminary, and the findings could change during the estimated nine months it will take to complete a full investigation and come up with recommendations for avoiding similar accidents in the future.

“If we can’t learn from it, there’s another officer that could his lose his life,” said Patrick Jones, the NTSB’s lead investigator on the case.

Vanbuskirk, 36, and four other crew members arrived by helicopter on the fateful night to rescue a lone hiker stranded on a ledge at Mount Charleston, northwest of Las Vegas. Police said Vanbuskirk had strapped the hiker into a harness and signaled to his crew to hoist them both up when he somehow fell a “nonsurvivable” distance to the ground below.

The hiker was pulled to the helicopter and was not injured.

Vanbuskirk, who had been a member of the search-and-rescue squad since 2007 and had worked with the department since 1999, had performed similar operations dozens of times before, police said.

Jones said there was nothing from the post-accident examination that would prompt NTSB to recall equipment or issue any industry-wide recommendations at this point. Investigators still have to complete interviews and lab tests to help pinpoint a cause, he said.

The report came a day after Vanbuskirk’s colleagues escorted his flag-draped casket through the Las Vegas Strip in an elaborate, police vehicle procession. Thousands of people, including many uniformed officers, attended a funeral that included an honor guard of drums and bagpipes.

The death was the first time a Las Vegas officer has died on duty since 2009.

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