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Search for missing police diver enters fifth day

Chris Caya

In a world of high-tech searches, Buffalo Police are continuing to apply the knowledge of decades of experience working on and around the Niagara River, as the search for Officer Craig Lehner continues into a fifth day.

The search resumed Tuesday morning as crews continued looking in the murk of the river for the Underwater Recovery Team officer. Lehner has been missing since something went wrong during a diving exercise near Broderick Park Friday afternoon. He has not been seen since nor has any of his diving equipment been found. The mystery of what happened continues.

The searchers have brought in side-scan sonar equipment from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create a map of the river and the maze of natural obstacles and debris in the water. Police Department Spokesman Lt. Jeff Rinaldo said it is time-consuming.

"The way the mapping works is, they have to make multiple, multiple passes," Rinaldo said. "Every time they make a pass in a certain grid pattern, it produces one layer of the map. The more passes, the more layers of the map that they can develop. The images that develop are extremely sophisticated. You can see rocks on the bottom of the water."

Meanwhile, generations of divers have been talking and applying their experience searching the river and spots where things often wind up, especially in the area between the Peace Bridge and the International Railway Bridge. That has been the area most heavily probed, with its eddies, rocks, and underwater obstacles.

Credit Buffalo Police
Buffalo Police Department
Officer Craig Lehner

"The search is focused on what our experience and the history of diving in these waters has taught us about where to be looking, what to be doing," Rinaldo said. "It's just, unfortunately, there's just so many variables that keep making it difficult. And, again, that debris field. It's not as easy as putting a diver in the water who can see 20 feet around."

Usually, visibility is about 15 feet in the river. Sunday rains had made the water impenetrable and caused divers to be pulled out Monday and put on standby. In the mean time, side-scan sonar continued to build an electronic map of the river and its bank.

Rinaldo said it has been emotional for other officers.

"It's a lot of ups and downs," he said. "We get word that there's a possible sonar hit of something, you kind of see everybody, their spirits pick up a little bit, and then it goes right back down because the boat camera goes through and says, 'No' or the diver goes through and says, 'No, it wasn't it.' It's like an emotional roller coaster."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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