Riding the falls and living to tell the story
blog by Ben Kirst • May 22, 2012 @ 8:21am
When you look at Niagara Falls, it seems utterly impossible that anyone riding that wild wave into the churning basin below could live to tell the story. The jagged rocks on the approach, the furious, roiling water at the lip, the desperate plunge followed by immersion into a physics-defying cauldron churned by a million gallons of water per second—there’s a reason why the despondent sometimes pick Niagara Falls as the place to end it all.
Cheer up! An unidentified man took a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls on Monday and survived. The Buffalo News reported that it was unknown whether the gentleman was a stuntman or a suicide case. The Niagara Gazette added that the man suffered “life-threatening injuries” but was conscious and responsive.
This marked the fourth known instance that an individual has successfully crested the Horseshoe Falls—the massive rocks on the American section of the Falls would knock out any chance of survival. Three of these stunts have occurred since 2003. Who were these survivors?
Unidentified suicide attempt (2009): Known only as a man from western Ontario, this fellow shot The Falls on March 11, 2009 and was scooped out by rescue crews after surviving not only the Falls but also the icy water below. Bloody and battered, he appeared to be unhelpful when a helicopter attempted to use the wind power of its blades to push the man to shore but he was eventually saved.
Kirk Jones (2003): Half-stunt, half-suicide attempt, Jones had a friend videotape his attempt to cruise over The Falls on Oct. 22, 2003. The friend forgot to hit the record button. Too bad—he missed the footage of the century. Jones, a 40-year-old sad sack from Michigan, reported that “...going over the falls was like ‘being in a giant tunnel, going straight down, surrounded by water…’ and that he ‘hit hard,’ was turned upside down in the water below, then pushed out far enough by the current to climb onto a rock.” The Jones dive also brought numerous theories to light about how a person could survive the plunge by riding “water cones” down certain sections of The Falls where water pressure actually serves as a cushion; that the “body-surfing” method would allow one to split the water below, rather than hit flat and be crushed on impact; and the “positioning” theory, which posits that certain sections of The Falls provide greater chances of survival. For more info, check out HowStuffWorks.com.
Roger Woodward (1960): only seven years old, young Roger and his teenage sister, Deanna, were boating on the upper Niagara River with a neighbor when the craft capsized. The neighbor would drown. Deanna was swept to the brink of The Falls before she was able to grab the finger of a rescuer perched precariously near the edge of the roaring cascade. And Roger—the life jacket-clad boy was fired like a slingshot over the edge and plopped fortuitously near the Maid of the Mist, which motored in to scoop him up.
Photo from Flickr / Alberto Mari.