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Drowned Coast Guardsmen honored

Mark Weidmann remembers that day 10 years ago as if it were yesterday.

Weidmann, a search and rescue controller for the U.S. Coast Guard, was keeping watch from the command center in Buffalo.

Four Coast Guardsmen disappeared in the frigid waters of Lake Ontario on the night of March 23, 2001, after their vessel capsized during a routine patrol.

In the end, two crew members died.

Those two -- Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott J. Chism and Seaman Christopher E. Ferreby -- were remembered Wednesday during a ceremony at Old Fort Niagara.

"The details are very clear. The weather is much like it was then," Weidmann said Wednesday. "I can even tell you what I was watching on television: It was 'Major Payne.' "

Chism and Ferreby had been stationed at Coast Guard Niagara Station in Youngstown. Their boat overturned at about 8 p.m. in 36-degree water because of 4-foot waves.

Chism, who was born in San Diego, was 25.

Ferreby, who was born in Morristown, N.J., was 23. He attended Fairport High School, outside Rochester.

Weidmann coordinated the multiple-agency search that eventually led to plucking two survivors from the chilly waters after nearly four hours.

He said he had a choice to make when search crews got to the mouth of the Niagara River; should he direct them to go with the currents heading east or west?

The wrong choice and all four crew members would have died, Weidmann said.

"And I prayed to God, and I said, 'Which way do you want me to send them?' " he recalled. "And 'east' came out of my mouth to the chief. He made a right turn and found them within a minute or two. So there was divine intervention."

The two rescued crew members suffered from hypothermia after several hours in the water but survived.

Several members of Ferreby's family attended Wednesday's ceremony.

"It's nice that they're not forgotten," said his mother, Kathleen Jenkins.

"It feels like yesterday," said Jennifer Limoli, Ferreby's sister.

A report issued by the Coast Guard after the accident found several factors led to the tragedy, including a change in the boat's course that was not reported to commanders and protective clothing that failed.

As a result of the investigation into their deaths, the Coast Guard made some changes to equipment and training on a national level, said Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, who was among those to attend the ceremony.

"This is a way to pay tribute," Brice-O'Hara said after Wednesday's remembrance, "to honor the sacrifice and to find some small piece of reason in what happened."

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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