Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

'A helicopter fell but
three angels soared.’


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Los Angeles Fire Department engines, at top, carry the coffins of three firefighters killed in a helicopter crash to services Saturday at the Sports Arena.

Left, firefighters file past the coffins as they enter the arena.

Service salutes fallen firefighters
By Louinn Lota

  Three firefighters killed in a helicopter crash while trying to save an 11-year-old girl were praised Saturday as the nation’s heroes who made “the ultimate sacrifice.”

  About 3,000 firefighters, some from as far away as Massachusetts, passed under an arch of ladders as they entered the Los Angeles Sports Arena for the memorial service honoring Michael A. Butler, Michael D. McComb and Eric F. Reiner.

  The men died Monday when their air ambulance lost its tail rotor and went down in Griffith Park while ferrying the badly injured girl from a traffic accident. The girl, Norma Vides-Anaya, also died, and two other firefighters were injured.

  Those killed were eulogized for making “the ultimate sacrifice one can make as a firefighter.” said Alfred K. Whitehead, president of the Washington-based International Association of Fire Fighters. “They are Los Angeles’ heroes,” he added.

   It was the second time in as many weeks that mourners donned armbands and filed somberly into services for a Los Angeles firefighter.

  Capt. Joseph Dupee was found in the rubble of a burning South-Central warehouse on March 8. He was the first city firefighter killed in the line of duty in 14 years.

  “None of us were prepared 14 days later to mourn another three,” said fire Chief William Bamattre, who choked on his emotions and wept as he described the lives and dedication of the dead firefighters.

  Bamattre said Dupee’s death “exhausted our department. None of us had time to rebuild our strength. Now we turn to one another for strength.

  A letter of condolence from President Clinton read during the service expressed “deep sorrow” at the firefighters’ deaths.

  “Sacrificing all to safeguard the well-being of others, these heroes represent what is best about America,” the letter said.

  The arena’s scoreboard displayed the names and images of the three firefighters. Three black-draped tables held their plastic-encased badges -- whose numbers were to be retired from service. Each table also displayed a gold medal from a firefighters’ organizations, a U.S. flag and a cedar box containing a Bible.

  Gleaming new fire equipment , from ladders and axes to coiled hoses. surrounded the tables, along with bouquets and photographs of the men. A choir sang “Amazing Grace” and other hymns.

   McComb’s wife, Lorene, hugged to her chest the two U.S. flags presented to her in memory of her husband, who was to retire soon.

  Two of Reiner’s young children played on the floor during the service while their mother, Lisa, dressed in a fire-red dress, sat somberly nearby.

  Butler’s wife, Maria Rosario, who is four month’s pregnant with the couple’s first child, also attended. Butler was the youngest paramedic hired by the department at the age of 21.

  In the weeks since Dupee’s death, the city has come under scrutiny for budged cuts it has made to the Fire Department. On Friday, the City Council restored $3.8 million in funds to the department -- about half of the amount cut    in February.

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Hundreds of firefighters pay their respects to three colleagues killed Monday.

 “We will not let our Fire Department down, Councilman Joel Wachs pledged. “A helicopter fell but three angels soared.”

  The mourners did not include the two helicopter crewmembers who survived the crash. Pilot Steven L. Robinson, 32, of Agoura and Dennis Silgen, 52, of Thousand Oaks suffered serious injuries and remained hospitalized on Saturday at USC University Hospital. The hospital did not release their conditions.

  Butler, 33, of Santa Clarita and Reiner, 33 of Carson were firefighter-paramedics assigned to Station 81 in the San Fernando Valley. McComb, 48, of Crestline, worked at Station 90 in the valley as an apparatus operator and was six months from retirement. Brief ceremonies were held at the two stations Saturday morning at which flags were lowered, taps was played and 10 bells were rung -- a Fire Department tradition.

  Butler and Reiner were to be buried this week. McComb was cremated on Friday, Capt. Steve Ruda said. Services for the girl were scheduled for Tuesday.

  McComb was also survived by children Maryann, 27; Patti, 30; and Robert, 24. Reiner also left children Nicolas, 9; Jessica, 7; Marisa, 4; and Lucas, 2.

    Daily Breeze
    Sunday, March 29, 1998

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