BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo police have for decades trained on the Niagara River. Because it’s among the fastest rivers in North America, they’ve done so with the full understanding of the danger that comes along with diving into such treacherous conditions.
They were of the same mentality last Friday, officials have said, when Officer Craig Lehner entered those swift waters for the final time.
Lehner dove into 25 feet of water alone last Friday, according to multiple police sources, to train for body recovery from the Niagara River — never thinking that, within an hour, he would become the subject of such a mission.
With members of the city’s dive team standing by on the Bird Island pier, Lehner’s tender cable suddenly tightened, snagged on something far below the surface.
The land-based team gave the line slack, and tried pulling in different directions, but the tether would not free.
Two members of the dive team sprung to action, tethered themselves to the taught line and attempted to swim below, the sources said.
The current’s strength proved too powerful, and they were forced back to the surface after cutting loose.
Others threaded an emergency air tank through the line, but again the current prevented it from sinking to Lehner’s level on the river bottom. They needed reinforcements.
Within 20 minutes of the first signs of trouble, the Coast Guard’s rescue boat arrived on scene.
Crews hitched the line, and using the boat’s strength, tugged Lehner’s tether in different directions.
Rather than freeing the officer trapped below, the line snapped, with Lehner still no where in sight.
Following a five-day search, involving dozens of first responders from agencies across the state and Canada, police said Lehner’s body began to surface near Strawberry Island.
The Buffalo Police homicide unit and the Public Employee Health and Safety bureau are investigating the incident. Police said this week the involvement of both agencies is standard protocol. The investigation could take months.