It is a stunning, heartbreaking loss.
The news early Sunday that four Bernalillo County first responders were killed in a helicopter crash near Las Vegas while on a firefighting mission is one of the worst tragedies involving law enforcement in state history.
Any time a first responder falls, it hurts. Losing four at once hurts exponentially.
Gone, suddenly, are veteran helicopter pilot and Bernalillo County Undersheriff Larry Koren, who absolutely loved his job. Koren had become a recognizable face to many New Mexicans in recent months, appearing on TV news explaining law enforcement operations including the crackdown on large illegal street-racing events.
Koren showed his bravery and piloting prowess by landing a helicopter repeatedly on Sandia Mountain to rescue 20 people who had been stranded on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway on New Year’s Eve night.
He was an outstanding member of the sheriff’s office he served for more than 23 years and recently campaigned to be the Democratic candidate for sheriff.
Also onboard the helicopter Sunday were:
• Lt. Fred Beers, who had been with BCSO for 13 years, volunteered as a member of the honor guard and also helped in the Tramway rescue;
• Deputy Michael Levison, who was a member of the New Mexico Air National Guard in addition to working for the sheriff’s office;
• Bernalillo County Fire Department rescue specialist Matthew King, an accomplished paramedic of 17 years who worked with Koren as a helicopter hoist operator and was a part-time faculty member at Central New Mexico Community College.
All of them dedicated their lives to helping others. All died in the line of duty to New Mexico last weekend while going above and beyond their call of duty.
We should never forget that.
The helicopter, dubbed Metro 2, crashed around 7:20 p.m. Saturday in a remote area of San Miguel County about 25 miles south of Las Vegas. There were no survivors.
Its crew had been providing bucket drops and other air logistics to crews battling yet another wildfire, the East Mesa Fire, which began Thursday night and had grown to about 75 acres as of Sunday evening.
BCSO aircraft often assisted with firefighting efforts, this year in what is already a record-setting fire season. The crew was headed back to Albuquerque when the helicopter went down.
The cause of the new wildfire is under investigation, as is the cause of the helicopter crash. That’s for another day. The sudden loss of four responders is a visceral reminder of the dangers we face every fire season and the danger our first responders face every single shift.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered flags in the state be flown half-staff through sundown Friday. Each of us can show our gratitude to Undersheriff Koren, Lt. Beers, Deputy Levison and Specialist King by observing that. Like many, the governor said she was heartbroken.
“These were four dedicated public servants who were doing what New Mexico’s first responders do day in and day out: working tirelessly to serve and protect their fellow New Mexicans,” she said Sunday morning. “On behalf of the people of New Mexico, I extend my deepest gratitude to these four brave men, and my deepest sympathy to their families, friends and colleagues.”
The next few days are going to be somber ones in New Mexico. We’ve lost four men who worked valiantly to make Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and the state a safer place. While our loss is heavy, the loss felt by their families, friends and colleagues is immensely greater.
We thank these four first responders posthumously for their service and offer our deepest condolences to their loved ones.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.