When Avianca Flight 52 crashed in Cove Neck in 1990, Nassau police Det. Sgt. Louis V. Ryf oversaw the logistics of identifying the dead and interviewing the survivors.
The crash killed 73 passengers and crew. Eight-five people survived.
"He was calm, certainly very confident and I think dependable," said retired deputy commissioner Mel Kenney, a former colleague. "You wouldn't give that assignment to somebody you didn't trust."
Ryf spent 37 years with Nassau police before retiring as a detective sergeant in 1996. He died of esophageal cancer July 9 at Meadowbrook Care Center in Freeport. He was 79 and lived in South Farmingdale.
"He really fought to the bitter end," said his daughter Andrea Sheffield, 48, of Bethpage, where her father had lived for many years.
Sheffield, who became his caregiver when he was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, said: "It was not just about his health and his well-being. It was about getting to know him all over again and having a bond."
Born in Hempstead, Ryf graduated from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High in Brooklyn in 1952.
He enlisted in the Army in 1954 and was stationed in Panama, where he served as a training officer.
On Sept. 1, 1959, Ryf joined the Nassau County Police Department, serving as commander of what was then the vice squad, his family said, and a detective sergeant in the homicide squad.
Kenney said Ryf's organizational skills helped him handle his duties at the Avianca crash scene. The plane had run out of fuel.
"He's one of the most dedicated guys you could ever meet," said retired deputy chief Tracy Smith, a friend.
At home, Ryf often told his family stories about his police work and military days.
"Sometimes he could even pick up a storybook for the children and make up his own stories," Sheffield said.
Ryf raved about the Yankees to his grandchildren who loved the baseball team. But he liked the Mets, said Sheffield's husband, Dean, 51, of Bethpage. "He made everyone around him feel special," he said.
After he retired from the Nassau police department, he and his wife fulfilled their dream of building a log cabin in upstate Cochecton Center, where he hunted, his family said.
On July 7, Ryf went into hospice care. His family spent days by his side, holding hands and praying for him. "We would tell him we were there," Andrea Sheffield said.
Sunday, his family will have a barbecue to celebrate what would have been his 80th birthday at his daughter's Bethpage home. "Lou always loved a good barbecue," Dean Sheffield said.
Ryf was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret Diane, in 2008. In addition to Andrea Sheffield, Ryf is survived by daughters Luanne Caner of Cameron Park, California, and Karen Babjak of Avon Lake, Ohio; sisters Patrice Cornelius of Patchogue and MaryEllen Cantone of Huntington Station; and eight grandchildren.