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Search for missing Buffalo police diver Craig Lehner suspended till morning

UDPATE: As of Saturday, the search is still on for missing Buffalo Police diver Craig Lehner. Click here for the latest news on the efforts to locate him.


Authorities suspended until morning the multi-agency search for the Buffalo Police Department dive team member missing since early afternoon Friday in the Niagara River.

He was identified late Friday as Craig Lehner, 34, a nine-year veteran of the Buffalo Police Department and member of its Underwater Recovery Team.

Lehner joined the department in 2008 and is serving as a K-9 officer. He's been with the dive team for about one year. Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda met with local members of Lehner's family at about 8:30 p.m.

Underwater robots equipped with cameras will continue the search overnight and divers will return to the water at dawn, Rinaldo said late Friday.

Craig E. Lehner. (Buffalo News file photo taken December 22, 2005)

Fourteen members of the underwater recovery team were conducting their routine monthly training in the swift waters when Lehner went missing at about 12:50 p.m., said Buffalo Police Lt. Jeff Rinaldo. The river is about 25 feet deep in that area.

Another police official, when asked if this was a recovery operation, said: "We don’t know. We are hoping for a miracle. Maybe he popped up on the shore somewhere."

Rinaldo, asked the same question at a news conference, said, "It's still a rescue mission, because we have no information otherwise."

He added, "We will be here as long as it takes to locate the diver."

The U.S. Coast Guard, which provided a 45-foot response boat to the search effort, said crews discovered the diver's tender cable had parted, according to a news release from the Coast Guard's Great Lakes district. A Coast Guard helicopter from Detroit is aiding in the search.

The Coast Guard also reported a diver's secondary dive tanks were discovered on the surface of the river, but Rinaldo told reporters the tanks are not connected to the missing Buffalo police diver.

At about 4:15 p.m., a police source told The News teams searching the waters off the Bird Island pier found a glove of the type worn by members of the dive team, and a Buffalo police photographer was taking pictures of it.

[Gallery: Search for missing Buffalo Police diver]

A police officer from another department's dive team who spoke on condition of anonymity told The News that when departments go underwater to do this type of training they typically are tethered to a common line.

The officer also said divers go underwater with a primary air tank that has between 60 and 90 minutes of air in it, depending on how hard the diver is breathing, and a second "pony" bottle that provides about 10 minutes of air.

As of 9 p.m., the Buffalo police diver had been missing for eight hours. The City of Buffalo by late afternoon was bringing in portable search lighting with generators, to allow teams to work into the night.

"It's in God's hands," said Buffalo Police Chaplain Bilal Abdullah. "We hope for something positive."

Amid sadness, search for Buffalo Police diver Craig Lehner halted until Saturday

Responders from several departments around the area were using aircraft and boats, including some with side-scan sonar, in the search.

The four sonar boats from the City of Tonawanda police, Erie County Sheriff's Office, Grand Island Fire Department and Buffalo Police Department were going out to where the dive team lost contact with the missing officer, and then drifting farther out into the river. The length of the drift was getting longer and heading farther north by several hundred feet.

Rinaldo said visibility in the water is "somewhat decent."

The Buffalo Fire Department deployed crews to various spots downstream along the Niagara River to keep a lookout for a body in the water, according to department radio traffic. The Grand Island Fire Department is was deployed to maintain a lookout at River Oaks Marina.

The Erie County Sheriff's Air One helicopter and a sheriff's boat are on scene.

Divers from departments around the area, including Tonawanda and Hamburg, have been called to assist with the search.

Helicopters from the U.S. Border Patrol and State police are also being deployed to help with the search effort.

"I would estimate there is a dozen to 15 agencies assisting us all the way up to Grand Island and on the other side of the border," said Michael J. DeGeorge, a spokesman for the Buffalo police and Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Steven V. Chamberlain said he and a companion went to Broderick Park in the late morning.

"We showed up here around 11 a.m. when the divers were just going into the water," Chamberlain said. "We were here to go fishing, and we moved along because we didn't want to get in the way of the dive team."

Rinaldo told reporters the department's Underwater Recovery Team practices there regularly.

"These are very dangerous waters to do diving in. At least once a month we train in these waters," Rinaldo said. "Unfortunately, sometimes training can be very dangerous."

Chamberlain and his fellow angler returned after noticing a number of emergency vehicles in the area.

"When we came back, we just learned one of the divers was missing," Chamberlain said. "I asked a Border Patrol officer what happened. He told me one of the diver's rope broke."

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