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Thread: Rescuers Search For Missing Firefighter At Weirs Beach, NH

  1. #1
    Scuba NewsHound Guest

    Default Rescuers Search For Missing Firefighter At Weirs Beach, NH

    Firefighter Described As Experienced Diver

    POSTED: 4:56 pm EST March 11, 2004
    UPDATED: 6:10 pm EST March 11, 2004

    WEIRS BEACH, N.H. -- Rescuers searched Thursday afternoon for a diver believed to be missing under the ice at Weirs Beach.

    Two Laconia firefighters were diving in the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee and were separated. Only one of the men resurfaced.

    "They had given each other the thumbs up that they we're going to come up," police Sgt. Steve Clarke said. "The first diver came up, and that's when he noticed that the other diver had not come up."

    Firefighters and dive teams from around the region searched into the evening around the Weirs Beach area. The missing diver is said to be an experienced diver and was wearing a wet suit and a tank, but it's not clear how long he would be able to survive.

    Rescue teams drilled holes in the ice to insert cameras to find some sign of the missing diver. Officials said they are concerned a current might have pushed him out of the area.

    The name of the missing firefighter has not been released.

  2. #2


    More information...

    LACONIA — Teams of divers from the all across the state and Boston resumed the search this morning to recover the body of Laconia Fire Department Lt. Mark Miller who drowned during a training accident at Weirs Beach on Thursday afternoon.

    Also assisting in the search are the Fish and Game Department, the New Hampshire State Police, the Marine Patrol and area dive teams.

    Fire Chief Ken Erickson said the search will continue until his body is found.

    Miller, a member of the department for 17 years and fellow department diver JP Hobby were testing new suits when Miller failed to surface.

    The search resumed this morning after Erickson conducted a briefing for the search personnel at the Weirs Beach station.

    Gov. Craig Benson was on the scene at daylight to meet with the chief, Miller’s family and to offer whatever state assistance was needed.

    "This reminds us that everyday firefighters put their lives on the line for the men and women in the state. This is just a reminder of how quickly things can turn around. It’s tough," he said after meeting with the family.

    "Having you here is a great boost for morale," the chief told the governor.

    Dive teams from the Boston, Concord, Nashua, Portsmouth and Manchester fire departments responded to the call for all available divers to assist in the recovery.

    One department crew stayed on the bridge over the channel all night just in case Miller’s body washed out from under the ice and was carried downstream by the current, police said this morning.

    Rescue personnel from throughout the state converged on Weirs Bay Thursday afternoon and searched for any signs of the firefighter.

    The search was called off shortly after 6:30 p.m. because of darkness.

    His colleagues returned to the scene this morning to resume what has been an extremely emotional rescue-turned-recovery effort.

    "We are going to do everything in our power to get our firefighter home," Erickson said Thursday afternoon, fighting back tears.

    A search crew made up of divers, medical personnel, police officers and firefighters from all over the state, was halted at approximately 6:35 p.m. — some four hours after the diver was reported missing.

    Erickson said the members of the local department were training with a new set of dive suits just off the main dock for the Mount Washington cruise ship, when trouble arose around 2:45 p.m.

    Both Miller and Hobby are experienced divers.

    The pair was believed to be diving in an area of open water that surrounded the docks and extended out approximately 100 feet to a solid sheet of ice. The open water ran to the shore along the length of the docks, which have electric bubblers keeping the water from freezing solid.

    Laconia Police Sgt. Steven Clarke — who spoke for Erickson earlier on Thursday — said the pair gave each other a "thumbs-up" sign to surface. He said one man reached the surface to find his partner missing.

    Despite going back under, the firefighter could not find his partner.

    A Massachusetts resident, who wished to remain unnamed, said she was walking on the boardwalk when she heard shouts from the docks below.

    "He was alone and was yelling that his friend was missing," she said.

    The woman called 911 and firefighters immediately responded to the scene calling all available dive teams in the state to respond.

    Crews from Chichester, Belmont, Franklin, Tilton-Northfield, Gilford, Meredith, Alton, Barnstead and Gilmanton were all on scene assisting. So too was the state Fish and Game Dive Team and numerous private diving outfits.

    Officials began by sending teams of boats and divers into the water in the immediate area of the docks.

    Dan McKenney of Wolfeboro’s Dive Winnipesaukee was among those who assisted in the underwater part of the search effort.

    He said water temperatures were somewhere in the area of 35 degrees with depths ranging from 20 to 30 feet. He said visibility under the water is between 15 and 20 feet for those searching.

    Authorities did not say how much air was believed to be in the victim’s tank when he was last seen, but experts said a full tank only lasts around 30 minutes in this weather.

    xperienced ice-divers on the scene said it can become extremely disorienting when one is under water that is covered with ice. It is for this reason that divers going under the ice are always tethered to a person above the surface.

    As more crews arrived on the scene they sent firefighters in "dry-suits" out onto the edge of the ice to try to spot the lost diver.

    The crews fed underwater cameras through holes that they cut with ice-augers. Authorities said there was still 2-3 feet of ice where they were cutting.

    Searchers also could be seen using metal detectors to patrol the area on the ice.

    Authorities also positioned a search boat near the head of Paugus Bay near the bridge, where the current is said to flow.

    The victim’s family and friends stood on the dock and were comforted by firefighters as the search crews worked. City Manager Eileen Cabanel and other top officials also responded to the scene to lend their support.

    A large crowd of spectators also lined the edge of the boardwalk, as numerous teams flowed up and down the ramp to the Mount Washington dock.

    Dozens of emergency personnel could be seen all over the water, ice, and docks by the time night fell and the search was temporarily halted for safety reasons.

    The chief said the state’s fire union has pledged its support with teams from as far away as Boston assisting in today’s effort.

    McKenney and others who assisted on Thursday said they, too, would likely be back.

    "If they need us, we’ll be here," he said.

    Although no official change has been made, the chief said the search is now "basically a recovery effort."

    The department’s Web site now shows a red, white and blue ribbon beside Miller’s name with the words "We remember."

    The chief praised the focused efforts of those who assisted in the search on Thursday amid extreme emotions. Fire and police crews were on the scene all night to secure the area.

    "Until he comes home ... they’ll be there with him," he said.

  3. #3
    Scuba NewsHound Guest


    another article from last night:

    LACONIA - A veteran firefighter and experienced diver drowned at Weirs Beach yesterday afternoon during a training exercise with his colleague.

    Officials have withheld the identities of the victim and the other diver. But three people who know the men said Mark Miller, a Laconia firefighter and EMT for 18 years, was diving in open water when he vanished at about 2:45 p.m. Miller was also the head of the fire department's dive team. JP Hobby, also a firefighter and EMT, was with him.

    The two were diving to break in new suits and had given each other a thumbs-up, indicating they would return to the surface, officials said. Hobby emerged, but Miller did not. Hobby went back under, but he could not find Miller. He yelled to a woman on the boardwalk nearby to call 911.

    By 3 p.m., a swarm of fire and rescue personnel arrived from across the region: Nine fire departments, the Laconia police, the Belknap County Sheriff's Department, state Fish and Game, state Marine Patrol and two private Lakes Region diving shops lined Lakeside Avenue with fire trucks and ambulances. A sports utility vehicle blocked access to the M/S Mount Washington's boarding ramp, where rescuers launched their exhaustive search.

    Shortly after 7 p.m., officials said the rescue had become a recovery operation that would resume this morning.
    Yellow police tape cordoned the Mount Washington ticket booth, where Miller's family was ushered shortly after 3 p.m. Hobby hugged his wife from the same spot, overlooking the divers and rescuers on the ice below. Emotional firefighters walked the beach, manned boats where the water turned to ice, about 100 feet from shore, and vowed to keep searching for as long as necessary.

    Two hours after Miller disappeared, Laconia Police Sgt. Steven Clarke briefed the press on the boardwalk: "At this point, the (fire) chief has asked me to talk for him because he just can't."

    Clarke said he did not know how long Miller could stay underwater, which hovered at about 35 degrees yesterday, and no one knew how much air was left in Miller's tank.

    "This is still a rescue operation. The fire department will determine when that might change," Clarke said.

    The current was a concern, he said, because it could have pushed Miller through the Weirs Channel, even though the Lakeport Dam had little flow. Other rescuers manned boats and combed the beach in that area.

    Sobs from rescuers could be heard on the scanner.

    On the ice, which was two- and three-feet thick in some places, firefighters shoveled snow in case Miller was trapped underneath. Others plotted large squares with footprints, searching the areas section by section. In some spots, they cut through the ice with augers and submerged cameras, which show on a hand-held screen what is underwater. Metal detectors were brought in to scan for Miller's equipment.

    At almost 7 p.m., more than four hours after Miller disappeared, Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson choked back tears as he announced the rescue mission had changed. "We do not want to give up hope, but yes, this is now a recovery," he said.

    Diving was stopped for the night because it was too dark, he said, but equipment and a boat were to stay. "We will do everything in our power to bring our firefighter home," he said. "We never leave them alone."

    Nashua and Boston dive teams are expected to arrive at the Weirs this morning.

  4. #4
    Scuba NewsHound Guest


    Body of veteran diver found under ice in Lake Winnipesaukee

    By Mike Recht, Associated Press Writer, 3/12/2004

    LACONIA, N.H. -- Mark Miller was an expert diver and 17-year veteran of the Laconia Fire Department who started a local dive and ice rescue team. He also taught kids and fellow firefighters about ice safety.

    So it was a shock to his colleagues when he disappeared during what seemed like a routine training exercise Thursday afternoon in icy Lake Winnipesaukee.

    Crews from the state Fish and Game Department, Marine Patrol, State Police and others searched until it got dark. They resumed Friday morning, drilling a series of holes in 3-foot thick ice so divers and underwater cameras could get through.

    His body was recovered Friday; scores of firefighters formed a double line on a dock and saluted as colleagues carried a flag-draped stretcher away.

  5. #5
    Scuba NewsHound Guest


    Loss of firefighter
    profoundly felt in Laconia

    LACONIA — Funeral services will be held today for a Laconia firefighter who died during a department practice dive on the frozen edges of Lake Winnipesaukee last Thursday.

    Despite the snowy weather, hundreds of firefighters from across the region, family, friends and fellow city colleagues are expected for the funeral of Laconia Fire Lt. Mark E. Miller, 43, at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church in Lakeport.

    Beginning about 10 a.m., a funeral procession will travel on foot 2.2 miles through the city from the Wilkinson-Beane Funeral Home on Pleasant Street, along Church Street to Messer Street and up along Union Avenue before turning on Elm Street in Lakeport to the Church.

    Miller, a master diver and 18-year veteran of the department, was diving in open water March 11 with fellow firefighter J.P. Hobby when the accident occurred. They were near the berth for the MV Mount Washington, which is currently in dry dock and the two were testing new diving suits. Miller was last seen giving a thumbs up, signaling intent to surface about 2:30 p.m. Hobby surfaced but Miller did not.

    Searches yielded Miller’s body at noontime Friday, a short distance away under the ice in 20 feet of water. What happened remains a mystery, but is under investigation by the state Fish and Game Department.

    Eileen Cabanel, Laconia city manager, said the loss of Miller is profound.

    “Laconia is very fortunate to have one of the finest group of firefighters that you can find, anywhere. And Lt. Miller was one of the finest of those,” Cabanel said.

    The line was long all afternoon yesterday during calling hours for the fallen firefighter.

    At the funeral home, lines of people snaked through the building past photographs of Miller at fire scenes. Some depicted him holding cats he had saved from a burning building on Union Avenue. Another showed Miller with a bloodhound dressed as one of Santa’s Reindeer, which was on the hospital float in the annual Christmas Parade. Miller had been a foster parent for Northeast Bloodhound Rescue.

    At Our Lady of The Lakes Chapel, work was underway to accommodate what is expected to be an overflow crowd. Seating was planned for 1,200.

    The chapel, where Miller was a communicant, has seating for about 600. Two remote sites were being set up in the church hall with a wide screen television. A tent, which could hold another 250, was also set up in the parking lot.

    Gov. Craig Benson is planning to attend, as are a number of other state dignitaries.

    Lakes Region General Hospital Emergency Room will be staffed by colleagues from its sister institution, Franklin Regional Hospital, so that members of the staff may attend the services. Miller’s wife, Gayle (Fournier) Miller, works in the Emergency Room.

    Similar arrangements are being made by out-of-area fire departments to cover for local firefighters who wish to attend.

    Yesterday, black bunting hanged from the bay doors of the Laconia Central Fire Station and an American Flag flapped at half-staff.

    After the funeral services, there will be a burial at Bayside Cemetery.

    A reception at the Winnipesaukee Trade Center in Lakeport is also planned, and a number of staging areas have been set up to accommodate large incoming groups.

    Memorial donations are suggested for the Local 1153 Miller Family Relief Fund in Care of Laconia Savings Bank, 62 Pleasant St., Laconia NH 03246; or the Laconia Lifesaving Fund, attention Chief Kenneth Erickson, Laconia Fire Department, Laconia NH 03246.

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