POSTED: 03:38 a.m. HST, May 22, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 04:47 a.m. HST, May 22, 2012
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. >> A man who survived a plunge of at least 180 feet over Niagara Falls — only the third person known to have done so without a safety device — was in stable condition Tuesday, a day after his apparent suicide attempt that led to a dramatic and painstaking rescue.
On a warm and sunny Victoria Day holiday morning in Canada, the man climbed over a railing 20 to 30 feet out over the Horseshoe Falls, the tallest of the three main falls, and "deliberately jumped" into the Niagara River, according to witness accounts given to Niagara Parks Police.
Seriously injured, he surfaced in the lower river basin near an observation platform and managed to make it to shore on his own, likely swept there by an eddy, said Platoon Chief Dan Orescanin of the Niagara Falls, Ontario, Fire Department.
"That's another stroke of luck," Orescanin said. "If he was in the main current, he would have been swept down river."
Rescuers who were called didn't immediately know whether the man at the bottom of the gorge had gone over the brink or entered the water at the base.
"When we heard that he had gone over the falls, we were shocked," Orescanin said.
Rescuers had to rappel down the steep and rocky gorge to reach him.
"It was very difficult. Between the shale and the boulders, and everything is wet and slick. It's slimy," Orescanin said.
The man, whose name wasn't released, was conscious and talking at first but got quiet, Orescanin said. He appeared to have chest injuries, including broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
From there, about seven rescuers struggled to haul a basket carrying the man back up the cliff to a point where it could be lifted with ropes suspended from an aerial truck. The entire rescue took about two hours.
"We had to basically hand carry him back up, a foot at a time, up the rope," the chief said.
The man, believed to be in his 30s or 40s, was airlifted to Hamilton General Hospital, where spokeswoman Agnes Bongers said he was critically injured but expected to survive.
The rescue came weeks before daredevil Nik Wallenda plans to walk over Niagara Falls on a tightrope after convincing United States and Canadian officials to grant an exception to laws prohibiting stunting.
Though several daredevils have survived trips over the falls in barrels or other contraptions, beginning with Annie Edison Taylor in 1901, few have survived unprotected.
Authorities don't believe Monday's plunge was a stunt.
"Based on witness statements and surveillance video, it doesn't appear in any way, shape, or form that this was anything other than a suicide attempt," Niagara Parks Police Sgt. Chris Gallagher told WIVB in Buffalo.
More than 6 million cubic feet of water go over the brink of the falls every minute during peak daytime tourist hours, according to the Niagara Parks Commission.
The last person to go over the falls unaided and live was a 30-year-old Canadian man in 2009. In 2003, Kirk Jones, an out-of-work auto parts salesman from Michigan, survived his plunge over the falls.