Costa Mesa PD memorializes two fallen officers on 30th anniversary of fatal helicopter crash

By Lou Ponsi

Dave Ketchum and Mike Libolt went through the police academy together, were the same age and on the job with the Costa Mesa Police Department for the same number of years.

They worked together and flew together.

On March 10, 1987, they died together.

Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack speaks during memorial service at police headquarters Friday, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the line-of-duty deaths of police officers Dave Ketchum and Mike Libolt, both killed on March 10, 1987, when their helicopter collided with another helicopter during a chase.

Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack speaks during a ceremony March 10 commemorating the 30th anniversary of the line-of-duty deaths of police officers Dave Ketchum and Mike Libolt, both killed on March 10, 1987, when their helicopter collided with another helicopter during a chase. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge

Family members, friends, former coworkers and current department personnel gathered at Costa Mesa Police headquarters on Friday, March 10 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the helicopter crash that killed both men.

Officer James David Ketchum’s daughter, Hilary Ketchum-Bos, from right, wife, Meg Ketchum, and grandsons David Bos, 9, and Jasper Bos, 7, attended a memorial at Costa Mesa Police headquarters  Friday honoring Ketchum and Officer John “Mike” Libolt, who were both killed March 10, 1987, when their helicopter collided with a Newport Beach helicopter.

From right, Officer Dave Ketchum’s daughter, Hilary Ketchum-Bos, wife Meg Ketchum and grandsons David Bos, 9, and Jasper Bos, 7, attend a ceremony at Costa Mesa Police headquarters Friday honoring Ketchum and Officer Mike Libolt, who were both killed March 10, 1987, when their helicopter collided with a Newport Beach helicopter. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge

The high point was the unveiling of a memorial that takes up an entire wall adjacent to the watch commander’s office.

The memorial is black, accented with blue lighting, with photos of Libolt and Ketchum together and a photo of both men together.

The phrase “IN MEMORIAM” is displayed in white lettering at the top.

“It took my breath away,” said Meg Ketchum, Dave Ketchum’s widow. “I expected just a little plaque. To keep their names alive in the police department is so important to me and I so appreciate it.”

Katie Libolt Wright, left, and her mother Becky Libolt West, hug following a memorial service Friday at the Costa Mesa Police Station, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the March 10, 1987 on-duty deaths of officers Mike Libolt and Dave Ketchum.

Katie Libolt Wright, left, and her mother Becky Libolt West hug following a memorial service Friday at the Costa Mesa Police Station commemorating the 30th anniversary of the March 10, 1987 on-duty deaths of officers Mike Libolt and Dave Ketchum. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge

Dignitaries at the memorial included former Costa Mesa chiefs Dave Snowden and Roger Neth.

Ketchum, an outdoorsman with a passion for fishing and camping, and Libolt, with his sharp wit and model looks, were killed when their helicopter, Eagle II, collided with a Newport Beach helicopter over Irvine while in pursuit of a suspect in a stolen car.

They were 39 and with the department for 15 years.

Costa Mesa police officers listen to speakers during a memorial service Friday at the Costa Mesa Police Station, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the March 10, 1987 on-duty deaths of officers Mike Libolt and Dave Ketchum.

Costa Mesa police officers listen to speakers during a service Friday at the Costa Mesa PD commemorating the 30th anniversary of the March 10, 1987 on-duty deaths of officers Mike Libolt and Dave Ketchum.

Jeffrey Pollard, a civilian flight instructor, also died in the crash.

On March 13, 1987, a double-funeral service was held at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, attended by 1,200 uniformed officers and 3,500 mourners overall.

Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack bows his head during a memorial service Friday at the Costa Mesa Police Station commemorating the 30th anniversary of the March 10, 1987 on-duty deaths of officers Mike Libolt and Dave Ketchum.

Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack bows his head during Friday’s service. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge

A highlight from that day was a flyover with choppers from county police agencies flying in a V formation, leaving gaps for Libolt and Ketchum.

Libolt and Ketchum were the first and only officers killed in the line of duty in the department’s history.

Hillary Ketchum-Bos, daughter of fallen Costa Mesa police officer Dave Ketchum, is comforted by former Costa Mesa Police Chief Dave Snowden during a memorial service at police headquarters Friday, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the line-of-duty deaths of Ketchum and his partner Mike Libolt. The officers were killed on March 10, 1987, when their helicopter collided with another helicopter during a car chase.

Hillary Ketchum-Bos, daughter of fallen Costa Mesa police officer Dave Ketchum, is comforted by former Costa Mesa Police Chief Dave Snowden during a memorial service at police headquarters Friday commemorating the 30th anniversary of the line-of-duty deaths of Ketchum and his partner Mike Libolt. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge

The accident led to a standardization of protocols among police agencies related to helicopter operations, said retired Costa Mesa police Lt. David Brooks, supervisor of the department’s six-man helicopter unit.

“This organization was shaken, was tested and was tried during that time, and I can tell you that we are much stronger today because of it,” Police Chief Rob Sharpnack said. “While we remember this event, their sacrifice lives on in every single one of us.”

Katie Libolt, daughter of Costa Mesa police officer Mike Libolt, poses for picture in front of photo of her father, who was killed in the line of duty along with his partner Dave Ketchum on March 10, 1987. A memorial honoring the two officers was unveiled March 10, the 30th anniversary of the tragedy.

Katie Libolt, daughter of Costa Mesa police officer Mike Libolt, poses for a picture in front of a photo of her father, who was killed in the line of duty along with his partner Dave Ketchum on March 10, 1987. A memorial honoring the two officers was unveiled March 10, the 30th anniversary of the tragedy. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge