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Lives Saved at Niagara Falls: Accident Rescues

The Story of Roger Woodward

It seems incredible that anyone could pass over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls without some protection and live. Yet it has happened twice, with one plunge that was accidental and one that was intentional.

On July 9, 1960, Jim Honeycutt took his co-worker's children, 17-year-old Deanne and 7-year-old Roger Woodward for a boat ride in the upper Niagara River.   Intent on giving the kids a good view of the rapids, he was soon past the 'point of no return'. He turned the boat around, but a shear-pin failure disabled the motor and left the boat wallowing in the swift current.

Roger was already wearing a life jacket and Deanne quickly put hers on. Seconds later the light boat flipped end over end.  Honeycutt and Roger were whipped toward the brink of the Falls. Deanne was carried into the shallow rapids near Goat Island.

Within a few feet of the brink of the Falls at Terrapin Point, Deanne clutched at the hand of a rescuer who leaned far out over the protective railing. Another person grabbed her by her thumb. She was dragged to safety just in time.

Honeycutt and Roger were swept to the brink. Roger was swept over and outwards by the trajectory of the Falls. Honeycutt disappeared in the three thousand tons of water that crash over the Horseshoe Falls each second.

Moments later the Captain of the Maid of the Mist could hardly believe his eyes when he saw an orange life jacket appear in the boiling white water at the base of the Falls.   Maneuvering the Maid steamship closer he saw that the boy was still alive. A life buoy was thrown and within minutes Roger Woodward was safely aboard.

He was the first person to survive the Horseshoe Falls without a protective capsule. Unfortunately, his father's co-worker, Jim Honeycutt, died in the punishing water. The Niagara River is an implacable adversary. For both stunters and unwary boaters, the chances of survival are slim.

Kirk Jones intentionally went over the Falls in October 2003 without a protective device of any kind and survived.   He was immediately taken into custody by the Niagara Parks Police and charged with stunting. Jones had to pay a large fine upon being found guilty in court of criminal mischief and for violating the Niagara Parks Act.  Jones admitted that his leap was a suicide attempt, and he used the ensuing media coverage to state that he intended to make good use of his second chance at life.   Niagara was forgiving in this one instance, as any item going over the Falls is usually sucked down by the force of the pounding water into the basin, which is as deep as the Falls is high, or rushed along the treacherous class six rapids of the Niagara River gorge.

The Old Scow

Niagara River

The dumping scow that can be seen marooned in the upper rapids just above the Falls and opposite the Floral Showhouse, has been there since August 6, 1918.  It is an aging reminder of near tragedy and a spectacular rescue.

The steel barge was loaded with rock and had two men on board - Gustav Lofberg and James Harris.  The scow was being towed to the upper river by a Hydro tug when its tow line broke and it set adrift. Fortunately, the men thought to open the dumping hatches in the bottom of the craft and the scow was grounded 767 m (838 yd) from the brink of the falls, where the men were surrounded by teacherous rapids.

Frantic efforts were made to rescue the men all that night and until late the next day. Finally a breeches-buoy was rigged from a powerhouse on shore to the rig. After several attempts were made to throw a line across to the rig the line became tangled, preventing the buoy from reaching the barge.

William "Red" Hill Sr., a famous Niagara River daredevil volunteered to swing himself out to the obstruction hand-over-hand above the raging water. The breeches-buoy finally reached the scow and the men aboard were rescued.

Today, the steel barge is now a part of the Niagara legend and a favourite resting spot for gulls.