TWO CMPD HEROES REMEMBERED
On a warm, sunny day dozens of current and retired members of the Costa Mesa Police Department, city staff, members of other law enforcement agencies, family and friends gathered under a cloudless sky to honor the memory of CMPD helicopter pilots Dave Ketchum and Mike Libolt a day before the 25th anniversary of the mid-air crash took their lives during a pursuit.
CHIEF GAZSI LED THE WAY...
Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi, who was serving on the Newport Beach Police Department at the time of this tragedy, was the master of ceremonies for this event. He stood in front of a HUGE American flag suspended by a crane and a Hughes E500 helicopter, like the one Ketchum and Libolt were flying that fateful night and made available by the folks at the Anaheim Police Department, and gave us a brief history of the accident.
DAVE BROOKS SPOKE ABOUT DAVE KETCHUM
Retired CMPD Captain Dave Brooks (currently the President of the Board of Trustees of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and Police Chaplain) gave the benediction, then spoke to the assembled crowd about Dave Ketchum.
BILL BECHTEL TOLD US ABOUT MIKE LIBOLT
Retired CMPD Sergeant Bill Bechtel, who was supposed to be in that helicopter that evening - on his first day as Commander of Costa Mesa's helicopter program - stepped up and spoke to us about Mike Libolt.
LOTS OF BRASS, RETIRED AND OTHERWISE
As I mingled with the crowd I saw former police chiefs Dave Snowden and Roger Neth. Snowden was chief on the day of the crash and Neth launched the helicopter program.
This was a very emotional event for most of those in attendance and especially so for the many retirees who showed up.
TOUCHING SLIDE SHOW
After the ceremony on the helipad, Sergeant Phil Myers presented a brief slide show featuring the careers of Ketchum and Libolt.
The crowd then adjourned to the parking lot where the Anaheim PD helicopter did multiple passes in a flyover salute. I saw more than a few tears during that part of the service.
A BRIEF HISTORY
It's always a terrible event when we lose an officer in the line of duty. That night, as Ketchum and Libolt - along with 27-year-old civilian flight instructor, Jeffrey Pollard, who was along as an authorized observer - handed off the pursuit of William Acosta to the Newport Beach helicopter piloted by Robert Oakley and Miles Elsing when a mid-air collision occurred both went down on a hillside near UCI. All three men in the Costa Mesa helicopter died of their injuries. The Newport Beach pilots, in a smaller Hughes 300C helicopter, both survived. You can read contemporaneous news accounts and background history HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.
Acosta was convicted of a variety of crimes from his actions that night and is serving 45 years in prison.
A WATERSHED MOMENT
I think it was appropriate to hold a remembrance for these two men. This crash was a watershed moment for the Costa Mesa Police Department and caused them to change the way they thought about the airborne law enforcement business.
PROUD TO BE A COSTA MESAN
Condolences to the families of those two brave pilots, and to the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department, who live with the memory of this event each day. It was yet another day I was proud to be a resident of such a fine city - one that does not forget its heroes.