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Investigative Post: Niagara River currents too fast for trainee Craig Lehner, some responding divers

Daniela Porat
A memorial to Officer Craig Lehner along the Niagara River in Broderick Park.

Public safety divers like the Buffalo Police underwater recovery unit are supposed to take their training slow. For example, experts say the norm in training how to dive in swift currents is to start in water that’s moving somewhere between one and four knots. But on the day Officer Craig Lehner trained in the Niagara River last October, the currents were eight to 12 knots.

“In training, you try to make things as safe as possible. We don’t like to put our divers in environments where things are going to be too bad,” said Robert Shields, a public safety diver in Rhode Island.

None of the half-dozen experts I interviewed wanted to speak about the specifics of Lehner’s drowning and the search operations. But the safety considerations they described differ from what’s done here in Buffalo. For starters, trainees shouldn’t dive in waters moving as rapidly as the Niagara River.

In February I reported that Lehner wasn’t sufficiently trained or equipped to handle the swift currents of the Niagara River. Now, I’ve obtained records from the U.S. Coast Guard through a Freedom of Information request that details the frantic five-day search effort for Lehner. They show Buffalo police weren’t equipped to dive in those rapid currents.

Click here to read the full report from Investigative Post.

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