Thursday afternoon I was honored to be invited to the decommissioning ceremonies for the AirBorne Law Enforcement Unit (A.B.L.E.) at its headquarters at John Wayne Airport. It was a warm, cloudless day - a perfect day for such an event.
NO DRY EYE DURING FINAL FLY-BY
Among the many highlights of the day was a fly-by conducted by two of the three Eagle helicopters, each of which then landed for their final time. They were then towed to the hangar and parked adjacent to the festivities. There were many tears visible as those two magnificent blue machines touched down for the final time and ended more than forty years of service.
A LARGE CROWD ATTENDED
More than one hundred people attended the ceremonies, including family, friends and co-workers from the police and fire organizations that A.B.L.E. has supported for more than four decades. Current and former law enforcement leaders from both Costa Mesa and Newport Beach were in attendance.
ADDERTON STILL HOPING...
Newport Beach resident Peter Adderton, who is still trying to put together a public/private partnership for local airborne law enforcement, brought his personal helicopter to the site and gave rides to any in attendance who wished to fly. I had a chance to meet him and his family. He's a nice guy with great intentions.
DIDN'T MISS THEM...
The only public official I recognized at this event was former Costa Mesa Councilwoman and current School Board Member, Katrina Foley. There may have been Newport Beach officials in attendance, but I didn't know them.
GOOD CHOW - GREAT PEOPLE
A nice Mexican lunch was served to all. Many police and fire teams showed up for the meal and to offer their condolences to the members of the A.B.L.E. team, then went back to the business of protecting and serving us. I teased many of the police folks that it was too bad no donuts were available... they smiled and kept eating. Despite all they've been going through, I saw pride and enthusiasm on display as they headed back into the trenches. Without A.B.L.E. in the air this weekend, they're all going to have their hands full. As I type this late Thursday evening the illegal fireworks are already beginning - with two days to go before ANY fireworks may be legally discharged in our city. It's going to be a very long weekend for Costa Mesa public safety folks.
FORMER CHIEF'S SPEAK OUT
Former Costa Mesa Police Chief Dave Snowden and former Newport Beach Chief Bob McDonnell stepped up and honored the men who have served our communities all these years with distinction. It was the foresight and collaboration of these two men back in the 1990s that was instrumental in creating the A.B.L.E. program as we know it today. Snowden, in particular, was very angry at the current Costa Mesa City Council for their short-sightedness in shutting down this program - the model for all other municipal helicopter programs throughout the country. He was particularly peeved that the council chose not to extend A.B.L.E. for a couple years when funds are available to do so without asking either sponsoring city for a penny. Nobody in that hangar disagreed with him. Politics is a nasty business, especially as it's practiced by guys like Jim Righeimer, Steve Mensinger, Eric Bever and Gary Monahan.
STARN WILL BE A LONELY GUY
A.B.L.E. Commander Tim Starn - who will be the ONLY employee of A.B.L.E. by the time you read this - did a fine job of introducing the A.B.L.E. team, including many former members in attendance. He put a face and personality on each and almost made it through the program with a dry eye - almost. Beginning July 1st Starn will be in a caretaker role as plans are made to sell off the assets and vacate the premises. A.B.L.E. still has almost a year on the hangar contract at $13,000 per month. The Costa Mesa City Council has instructed him to NOT sell the helicopters for 90 days, just in case some kind of private arrangement can be made that will utilize those valuable assets.
All the other A.B.L.E. members - pilots and mechanics - will begin new lives on July 1st. Most will return to their respective departments to assume more traditional law enforcement roles. Some will not. Here's the roster of A.B.L.E. as it is shoveled into the dust bin of time.
Tim Starn - Commander
Tom Fischbacher - Pilot/Lt. NBPD
Jeff VanEs - Pilot SAPD
Kent Eischen - Pilot NBPD
Ryan Walker - Pilot CMPD
Rob Dimel - Pilot CMPD
Paul McCarthy - Pilot CMPD
Russ Eastman - Dir. of Maint. NBPD
Chris Freeman - Mechanic NBPD
Steve Wooten - Mechanic NBPD
THANKS, AGAIN, TO THEM ALL
Thanks to all of them, and to those who flew before them, for their efforts to keep our communities safe. They will be missed.