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Procession heads to Palm Mortuary for Vanbuskirk

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Updated: 7/29/2013 11:02 pm
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Dozens of police motorcycles drove two-by-two down the Las Vegas Strip, leading the flag-draped coffin of a search-and-rescue officer past massive electronic casino marquees bearing his photo.

The procession was the first of a series of tributes taking place Monday in honor of David VanBuskirk, 36, who died after falling from a helicopter hoist line July 22 while rescuing a stranded hiker at Mount Charleston.

A viewing, graveside service and memorial in a Henderson church that seats 2,900 also were planned.

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 on the accident later this week.

Rescuers responded shortly before 9 p.m. that day to reports that a hiker was disoriented and stranded on a rocky ledge just 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 had been burning in the area, and park workers closed some trails to protect hikers from smoking material, ash pits and falling trees. The night of the rescue, conditions were breezy with a bright moon, officials said.

After landing, VanBuskirk attached a safety harness to the stranded man, who was hiking alone. VanBuskirk signaled to the four rescue workers in the helicopter above to hoist them both up from the craggy ledge. But the officer somehow detached from the line in midair and fell a "nonsurvivable" distance to the ground below, officials said.

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

It was the first time a Las Vegas officer had died in the line of duty since 2009.

VanBuskirk grew up in the Las Vegas area, was married and lived in Henderson. Gov. Brian Sandoval ordered flags at state buildings to be lowered over the weekend and on Monday in VanBuskirk's honor.
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