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Copter lifts 2 officers from rescue boat following efforts to find disabled craft

Two New York State Park Police officers were hoisted to safety by a Canadian rescue helicopter Saturday morning, about four hours after their boat was grounded in the upper Niagara River, while they tried to locate another disabled boat in the fog.

The Niagara Parks Police Service teamed up with a private Canadian helicopter company to rescue the two officers, whose names haven't been released.

"Everybody's fine," New York State Park Police Sgt. Mark VanWie said.

The original call came out at about 2:15 a.m., when a boat, believed to be about a 17-footer, was trapped near the Power Authority intakes. Four teenagers were on that boat, which apparently lost battery power or ran out of gas. The four teens called for help from a cell phone.

The rescue boat was stymied by the fog and got grounded in the Three Sisters Island area, about a quarter-mile from the Falls, at about 4 a.m.

Authorities had to wait until later in the morning, once the fog cleared sufficiently, to rescue the two trapped officers. They were brought to safety at about 8:15 a.m.

The Niagara Parks Police Service's High Angle River Team (HART) executed the rescue, with a private helicopter from Niagara Helicopters.

Pilot Ruedi Hafen worked with Constable Shawn Black from the rescue team, who hung most of the way down from a 120-foot-long rope attached to the helicopter. First, the rescuers dropped harnesses and helmets for the two stranded officers.

"When they were suitably equipped, Niagara Helicopters flew our officer back there on the bottom of the short-haul line, picked up one of the stranded officers and brought him back to Goat Island," said Constable John Gayder, coordinator of the HART team. "Then, they returned for the other officer."

Meanwhile, the civilians on the first boat were brought safely to shore at roughly 3 a.m., officials said.

No names have been released. When asked whether the four teens might face charges, officials said the incident remains under investigation.

Police officials used the incident, which risked the lives of six people in two boats, to warn about the potential dangers of boating in the area.

"This is an incredibly dangerous area, and this is an exclusionary area below the water intake," VanWie said. "So it's absolutely crucial that people stay out of this area."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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