Officer Craig Lehner’s death in October during a training dive for the police Underwater Recovery Team in the Niagara River brought about an outpouring grief. Investigative Post’s reporting suggests inadequate training and equipment contributed to Lehner’s drowning.
Investigative Post reviewed more than 130 pages of police documents obtained through state Freedom of Information Law and interviewed half-dozen diving experts across the country. Those experts did not want to talk about the incident itself. But the practices they described for public safety diving teams elsewhere differ from what’s done here in Buffalo. Police officials declined to comment.
Lehner first learned to dive when he received an advanced scuba certification in the clear Caribbean waters off Guantanamo Bay in 2014 while serving the National Guard. He later joined the Underwater Recovery Team and trained five times in the relatively calm waters of the Buffalo River and Union Ship Canal.
Those experiences are worlds apart from the swift and debris-laden waters of the Niagara River where he took his fatal dive.
David Concannon, an attorney who investigates diving fatalities, questioned why Lehner was put in such a dangerous environment for a training exercise.
“In my professional opinion, you don’t put somebody into harm’s way to train them for something that’s unlikely to occur without really taking additional precautions,” Concannon said. “You don’t trigger an avalanche to help to see, to rescue someone from an avalanche. It’s unnecessary, it’s unsafe.”
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