[cifnmedia] Public Safety Diver (LODD)

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 09:32:47 -0800 (PST)

News - March 13, 2004

Diver found after lake accident
Union Leader Staff

LACONIA — Under the frozen surface of Lake Winnipesaukee, divers
yesterday afternoon located the body of a Laconia fire lieutenant,
almost 24 hours after a department-authorized practice dive with new
suits went horribly wrong.

The search drew firefighters and divers from across New Hampshire and
the Boston area. The body of Lt. Mark Miller was found about 1 p.m.

Scores of firefighters formed a double line on a dock and saluted as
colleagues carried a flag-draped stretcher away.

An experienced diver and the founder and head of the Laconia
department's dive team, Miller, 43, of Laconia was with fellow
firefighter J.P. Hobby testing new dive suits in an open water area
when he disappeared. He was near mooring space for the cruise boat
the MV Mount Washington about 2:30 p.m. Thursday. He was last seen
giving the thumbs up to Hobby to surface.

Hobby surfaced but Miller did not. A furious effort to find Miller
ensued. He was wearing tanks holding a maximum of 30 minutes of air,
and hours after his disappearance the rescue slowly turned into a
recovery effort.

Michael Nalen, a dive master from Divers Den in Manchester, located
the body. State Fish and Game Lt. Robert Bryant said Nalen located
the body at 12:50 p.m., several hundred feet from the edge of the
ice. It was on the bottom of the lake in about 20 feet of water. Fish
and Game divers recovered the body a few minutes later.

An autopsy is scheduled by the state's medical examiner today in
Concord, and the dive suit and equipment are being examined to check
for equipment malfunction, Bryant said.

Bryant said the suit was relatively new; he did not know how familiar
Miller was with it.

There was nothing evident from the body or its location to lead
investigators to know what went wrong, Bryant said.

"We will never know for sure what really occurred," Bryant said. "We
knew they did not intend on being under the ice. Their intent had
been to stay in the open water," and they were not tethered to each
other in any way.

Fire Chief Ken Erickson thinks Miller may have gotten disoriented and
became trapped under the ice. Even though Miller had a compass on his
suit, he probably came up under the ice and couldn't get out,
Erickson said.

Ice was 2 feet thick in some places.

"He would've been proud of what went on here today," Erickson
said. "He was very proud of his dive team."

Pat Foley, one of 11 divers from the Boston Fire Department who
searched for Miller, said he believed Miller had enough air in his
tank when he last saw his diving partner, about 40 feet from open

Foley said the two last saw each other near an old ship boiler at the
lake bottom. It's possible the metal boiler may have thrown off the
compass, he said. Some 25 divers were on hand yesterday to assist in
the recovery effort.

"I will say it went more smoothly than expected given the number of
outfits that were there," said Bryant. "Safety was first and everyone
worked well together. I was very, very impressed with how everyone
worked together."

The water was clear, with water temperatures in the 30s and
visibility less than 20 feet.

Holes were punched through the ice, and lights and cameras were
dropped in an attempt to locate the body.

All night Thursday and into Friday morning, police and firefighters
scanned the open water in the area of the Weirs Channel, looking for
the body, if it surfaced.

Gov. Craig Benson attended a 7 a.m. briefing for divers at the Weirs
Beach Fire Station.

Benson talked to Miller's family and said the state is "blessed" to
have so many hardworking firefighters.

"Something must have really gone wrong," said Boston Fire Chief Curt
Holzendorf, chief of special operations. He predicted that hundreds
of firefighters from the region will attend services, which have not
yet been scheduled.

"There is a sense of closure to this now," said Laconia Police Chief
Thomas Oetinger, who knew Miller for most of Miller's 17 years in the
Fire Department. Miller was "always in a perpetually good mood,"
Oetinger said.

"He was a sincerely nice, good guy. At a fire scene, a medical
emergency, an accident, he would do whatever he could do to help
others," Oetinger said.

Word of Miller's death rekindled sad memories to Manchester Chief of
Training Richard Martel, who recalled the death of firefighter David
Anderson in a Manchester apartment building fire in December 2000.

"Our heart goes out to them," he said of the Laconia department. "We
had to go through this just a few years ago. It is just traumatic for

Four members of the Manchester Fire Department headed to Lake
Winnipesaukee yesterday to join in the search from land, by boat and
do whatever they could to help assist.

Nationally, between 100 and 120 firefighters die annually and an
estimated 12 to 15 percent die in training related incidents, Martel

Manchester used to have a dive team but cut it from the budget. The
city now relies primarily on state Fish and Game for search and
rescue in water.

For many departments it is a matter of costs, with the suits
themselves costing nearly $2,000 each, not to mention underwater
communications equipment and training, Holzendorf said.

Laconia is surrounded by lakes and has many boating, swimming and
snowmobile incidents to deal with each year. Miller was remembered
for his love of diving and extending his love of assisting others
through his diving. He founded the city's dive team and it was his
special interest, friends said.

Miller was married and has three stepchildren.

"We're a big family, here to support each other," Erickson said,
choking up.

Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network

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