Search continues for missing police diver

Now in its third day, the search effort continues to add manpower and equipment

By Mark Sommer
The Buffalo News, N.Y.

BUFFALO, N.Y. - With a rain and wind storm headed their way, search teams moved north Sunday as they continued to look for Craig Lehner, the police diver who went missing early Friday afternoon during a training exercise.

The decision to relocate the massive, multi-agency effort came as Buffalo Police acknowledged the search for Lehner is no longer a rescue effort and the emotional difficulty in making that decision.

"We are going north with our search toward the International Railway Bridge, and even north of that," Lt. Jeff Rinaldo said Sunday morning. "The good thing for us is that the further north we get from this point the calmer the water gets, the current slows down and the debris field pulls away."

Lehner's fellow divers had been looking in the swift, 25-foot-deep waters off Bird Island Pier, in Broderick Park. The new search area should help speed up the search and help the sonar instruments be more effective, he said.

When the search resumed Sunday morning, conditions on the Niagara River were accommodating but that was expected to change as the day unfolded.

In its latest forecast, the National Weather Service predicted a storm carrying showers and winds of up to 28 miles an hour would arrive on Buffalo's West Side by about 4 p.m. The forecast also calls for wind gusts of up to 41 miles an hour.

Rinaldo acknowledged the storm could hamper or curtail the search, and that high winds would affect conditions for both divers and search-and-rescue boats equipped with sonar.

"The safety for everyone involved in this is our utmost concern, and we won't jeopardize that, so we'll be evaluating that," he said of the storm.

Now in its third day, the search effort continues to add manpower and equipment. The New York Police Department arrived Saturday with a stronger sonar device that can reach 60 feet deep, Rinaldo said.

The search for Lehner, 34, a diver and full-time K-9 Unit officer, began at 12:50 p.m. Friday after he failed to surface with the Buffalo Police Department's Underwater Recovery Team during a training exercise. The U.S. Coast Guard, which provided a 45-foot response boat to the search effort, found Lehner's tender cable had parted.

A diver's secondary dive tanks were discovered on the surface of the water Saturday, but they didn't belong to the missing Buffalo police diver.

As he often has over the past three days, Rinaldo spoke of his fellow police officers and the constant presence of off-duty officers at the scene.

He also acknowledged for the first time that the search for Lehner is no longer a rescue effort, and admitted it was an obvious, but emotionally difficult, decision to make.

"Reality is reality," Rinaldo said. "Unfortunately, we know no one can survive underwater for this long."

Despite that realization, everyone involved in the search effort remains motivated, fueled in large part by a collective need to find their comrade, he said.

"Everybody has heavy hearts and minds, but we have a job to do and we are just hoping to locate our brother," Rinaldo said. "That's the focus, that's what's getting people through the day and to continue doing what they're doing. There'll be a time later for emotions, but we're doing the best we can to keep moving, keep pushing, keep progressing."

©2017 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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