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June 18, 2011

Park police officers rescued near brink of falls

Canadian civilian pilot plucks park officers from vessel after they rescued group of teens in disabled boat

NIAGARA FALLS — Two Niagara State Park Police officers were plucked from their boat by a Canadian tourist helicopter Saturday morning after they became stranded about 900 feet from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls — after they themselves rescued four teens from a disabled motorboat headed toward the falls.

The rescue was conducted by the Niagara Parks Police Service High Angle River Team from the Canadian side with Niagara Helicopters pilot Ruedi Hafen.

The incident began at about 2 a.m., when New York State Parks police received a call about a disabled vessel with four people aboard. It was near the Three Sisters Islands, about (300 yards from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, Sgt. Mark Van Wie of the Canadian Parks Police told the Niagara Falls Review.

They were near the water intake plants for Niagara Falls, well inside the area restricted to boats.

It wasn't clear where they were from or whether the boat ran out gas or had engine trouble, Van Wie added. He described their boat as an 18-foot motorboat.

Two New York parks officers launched their own flat-bottom jetboat. They were able to get the stranded teens back to shore, but in the course of the rescue their vessel experienced difficulties.

Unsure in the fog and darkness where they were in relation to crest of Horseshoe Falls, the officers were forced to take emergency measures to affix their current location in the river until the fog abated when the sun rose.

Niagara Helicopters pilot Hafen was called to the scene after a helicopter in Erie County was unable to take off due to heavy fog.

"They were both very excited. They both wanted to get off that boat," Hafen told the Niagara Falls Review later Saturday.

Hafen made two trips, each time with one of the stranded officer and rescuer Const. Shawn Black, a Niagara Parks Police officer dangling from a 90-foot line attached to the bottom of his blue Bell helicopter.

As described to the Review, Hafen flew his helicopter with his employee Ken Irvine over the boat and they lowered Black to the men, who gave them harnesses. Hafen flew away, giving the American officers time to put on their harnesses. The pilot then returned. The stranded officers attached themselves to Black, already hanging from the line, and Hafen shuttled them from the stranded boat to the safety of a parking lot on Goat Island state park.

It was about 8:30 a.m., by the time the officers were back on shore — more than four hours after they ran their jetboat aground.

“The operation was a a little complicated due to the winds and the river’s current,” a Niagara Parks Police Service HART co-ordinator reported, according to a press release from Canadian Parks Police, “but communications were handled effectively between both police agencies and Niagara Helicopters. The fact that we had all trained together for this type of occurrence assisted us greatly.”

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