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Las Vegas officer plummets to death from helicopter hoist line during rescue of hiker

| Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 7:03 p.m.

LAS VEGAS — A Las Vegas police officer who was rescuing a hiker stranded in an off-limits area of a mountain northwest of the city died when he fell from a helicopter hoist line Monday night.

At an emotional news conference on Tuesday, police offered 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 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 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. He signaled to the four rescue workers in the helicopter above to hoist them up from the craggy ledge, but then somehow detached from the line in midair and fell a “nonsurvivable” distance to the ground below, officials said.

The hiker was safely rescued and is being interviewed, police said.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said Vanbuskirk had performed “dozens” of rescues like the one that killed him. Las Vegas rescue workers have completed 130 helicopter rescues in the past 12 months.

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