Published: March 12, 2009 12:01 am
FALLS PLUNGE: Man rescued after
surviving jump over Horseshoe
By Corey Larocque
Niagara Falls Review
Firefighters have to be ready for anything, but a
polar-bear dip into the icy water at the base of Niagara Falls
is a unique challenge.
“That’s my first ice-water rescue — outside of
training,” said Todd Brunning, the 34-year-old firefighter who
jumped into the Niagara River and swam out to save a man who
witnesses said went over the Horseshoe Falls and lived.
After surviving the 170-foot plunge over the Horseshoe Falls,
the unidentified man swam in the icy water of the Niagara River
for about 30 minutes while rescuers raced against the clock to
get him out.
“If it had gone on a couple minutes more, he would have sunk
beneath the water,” said Niagara Parks Police Sgt. Chris
It wasn’t clear whether it was a stunt or a suicide attempt.
Police, firefighters, paramedics and a private helicopter pilot
worked for about 45 minutes to save the man who went into the
water above the falls but stayed afloat in the lower river. He
clung to a log at times, and was swimming in the near-freezing
water while rescuers prepared on shore.
He was listed in critical condition Wednesday night. He was
transferred to Hamilton General Hospital, after having initially
been taken to Greater Niagara General Hospital. He was treated
for hypothermia and head trauma.
Niagara Parks Police were called to the river at 2:11 p.m.,
after a tourist saw a man climb over the wall south of Table
Rock House. Police believe him to be in his late 30s but don’t
know much about him because he was naked and semi-conscious when
he was rescued.
Police said the man was dressed when he went into the water, but
the force of the rushing water could strip the clothes off
“He voluntarily entered the water and refused assistance at
the bottom. Whatever conclusion you want to draw from that,”
parks police Chief Doug Kane said.
When police located the man, he had drifted downriver from the
falls toward the Maid of the Mist landing, approximately 1,500
feet from the falls.
A current brought him back upriver even with an old
hydroelectricity generator in the Niagara gorge, half way
between the Horseshoe and American falls.
The man was about 30 feet from the shore, clinging to a piece of
Gallagher, the first officer on the scene was able to call out
to him, urging him to swim toward the shore.
“He definitely heard me. He turned and looked at me. He
basically gave me verbals that he wasn’t going to comply with
it,” Gallagher said.
The man let go of the wood and swam away from the shore.
The water at the bottom of the Horseshoe Falls is open now, but
a few weeks ago it was frozen solid between the Canadian and
While the man bobbed in the water, chunks of ice as big as he is
as floated by. He moved his arms like he was swimming, but
didn’t seem to have any direction.
At the same time the parks police high angle team and
firefighters were setting up on shore for a rescue.
Approximately 30 minutes after the emergency call, Niagara
Helicopters pilot Ruedi Hafen flew into the gorge. Parks police
Constable Shawn Black, a member of the police force’s high
angle river team, leaned out the side door. He tried to reach
the man with an pole, but the man didn’t cooperate.
Hafen then used his helicopter’s draft to blow the man toward
the shore. When he got about 60 feet away, firefighter Brunning
entered the water wearing a specialized dry suit, swam to the
man and pulled him back to shore. Firefighters carried him to an
ambulance where paramedics treated him.
At least 17 people — not including suicide attempts — are
known to have gone over the falls.
“He was on a suicide mission, I assume,” Hafen, the
helicopter pilot, said.
“I’ve never, in my career, seen someone so tough, swimming
between the ice.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.