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Jet Ski incidents claim two lives Sunday on Niagara River, Lake Erie

Two men lost their lives Sunday on local waterways in incidents that involved personal watercraft, according to local police.

A 51-year-old Lackawanna man was presumed drowned after he was knocked off the craft – colloquially known as Jet Skis – and into the path of a 45-foot cabin cruiser off Niawanda Park, while a 50-year-old German national, who apparently was out on the lake in a personal watercraft, was found floating unconscious near the Crystal Beach boat launch in Fort Erie, Ont., and later died at a local hospital.

A search of the Niagara River for the body of Ahmed Umar, 51, of Lackawanna continued Monday. City of Tonawanda Police said Umar and an 8-year-old relative who was on the craft with him crossed the path of the cabin cruiser, though a preliminary investigation does not indicate that the two vessels collided.

"We are looking into the possibility a large wake or swell caused the occupants of the (personal watercraft) to be thrown into the water and struck by the passing boat," said Tonawanda Police Capt. Fredric Foels.

The juvenile relative who was on the craft with Umar suffered a minor cut on her foot and did not require hospitalization, according to police.

Meanwhile, the identity of the German man who died near Crystal Beach was not yet released Monday by the Niagara Regional Police Service. Police also had not yet identified a 41-year-old man from Scarborough, Ont., who was found with the German man.  He, too, was unconscious but later resuscitated and transported to a local hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia. He is expected to make a full recovery, police said.

Police, who were responding to a report of what appeared to be a double drowning, said that a 14-year-old girl saw a personal watercraft driving in circles in Lake Erie. That prompted her to drive her personal watercraft to check on the situation, where she found two unconscious people floating in the water. According to police, she drove back to get assistance from her family and others, and the group used personal watercraft to bring both males to shore, where resuscitation efforts began.

Back in the City of Tonawanda, Foels said it was a hectic Sunday on the Niagara River when the cabin cruiser, heading west on the river, struck Umar.

"It was busy out there, the waves were roaring and the boat traffic was unbelievable," Foels said. "For whatever reason, they were thrown off ... and into the path of this boat. It's a big boat, and with boats like that, you can't hit the brakes."

Foels said the 59-year-old driver of the Sunseeker model cabin cruiser was fully cooperative with the investigation and "is pretty distraught."

"It was called in at 4:30, and when I arrived I looked up the river, and Niawanda Park was packed," Foels said. "It was one of those Sunday last-day-of-the-summer days. The river was full of traffic and Jet Skiers and kayakers and everything."

The vessel was rented by Umar from Waikiki Watercraft rentals of Grand Island, located next to the Radisson Hotel (formerly the Holiday Inn).

Police boats from the Erie and Niagara County sheriff's departments, Border Patrol and Grand Island Fire have assisted the City of Tonawanda Police boat in the search, which is continuing. Crews were out until dark Sunday and resumed their search Monday morning; the City of Tonawanda Police boat utilized its sonar in the search.

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