Action News details record of search and rescue team

Darcy Spears

Action News details record of search and rescue team

CREATED Jul. 23, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- The line of duty for search and rescue crews is a dangerous one to walk.

Every rescue is a risk, where either the victim or the rescuer might not make it back.

It's been 15 years since a Search and Rescue officer died while on duty. But more recently, there have been accidents.

After Monday night's tragedy, there will be numerous questions about how and why something like this could have happened.

March, 1998.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's Search and Rescue personnel gather to remember Officer Russell Peterson.

"He was participating in a climbing exercise and lost his life," said LVMPD Sheriff Doug Gillespie at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Peterson and a partner were practicing rescue training in the snow.

Ice climbing on Echo Face near the Cathedral Rock area.

The pair had just descended from a frozen waterfall when several thousand pounds of ice broke loose, killing Peterson.

Peterson was the second member of LVMPD's Search and Rescue to die in the latter 1990s.

Sergeant Jerry Passer died after being accidentally shot in November of 1996.

Passer was shot in the head moments after getting off his dirt bike in the desert near Apex, about 15 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The fatal bullet was fired by target shooters more than 1,000 feet away and nearly 46 feet below where Passer was standing.

That was a freak, off-duty accident.

But there was another accident on duty less than a year ago.

In September 2012, a LVMPD helicopter piloted by a Search and Rescue sergeant made a hard landing.

It flipped on its side near the North Las Vegas Airport during a training exercise. Two officers were sent to University Medical Center with minor injuries.

The chopper was totaled, costing LVMPD nearly $1 million.

That crash is still under federal investigation.

Monday night's tragic accident will be too, for some time.

Sheriff Gillespie reminded all at the press conference, "Please keep in mind, this is an ongoing investigation and so probably some of the questions or answers that you're seeking are answers that we're seeking."

Investigators from OSHA and the National Transportation Safety Board will be asking some hard questions.

Like -- why did they do a rescue in tricky terrain at night?

Was the victim in imminent, mortal danger or suffering from a medical condition that couldn't wait until first light?

Were the pilot, crew chief and officers wearing night vision goggles?

And perhaps the most important questions will be about safety protocol.

Investigators will be looking at whether there was a secondary connection device on the safety harness.

Experts told Contact 13 when on a hook or rope at altitude, standard rescue protocol demands at least two or sometimes three connection devices in different locations, so if one fails, there's back up.

LVMPD is hoping to have answers in the coming weeks, but things like this can often take months.