Jet skiing at the top of Niagara Falls wasn’t your best idea. You’re already beginning to lose feeling in your body. The Niagara River rarely gets much above freezing, so hypothermia could be setting in. But that’s not your biggest problem, since you’re near Horseshoe Falls, with its 57 m (188 ft) drop.
The water rushes over the edge of the Falls at 109 km/h (68 mph). And it’s taking you with it.
Niagara Falls stands about 54 m (176 ft) tall. An astonishing 168,000 m3 (6 million ft3) of water cascades over the brink every day. That’s a crushing 2,832 tons of water per second. This will not be like an average waterpark plunge.
Does it make a difference if you’re in some kind of contraption? Will diving in headfirst help you to make it out alive? And if we ask you to tense up, would you believe us?
There’s something enticing about the Niagara River, and its three sets of waterfalls. By some counts, about a dozen people have made it over Niagara Falls without protection, or some kind of custom-built contraption.
But even if you build a vessel to ride in, you have very sketchy odds of coming out the other side alive. An estimated 20 people are collected from the bottom of the Niagara River under the falls each year. Much like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, there’s something enticing about the Niagara River and the three sets of waterfalls there.
The water moves quickly, sometimes silently, and sometimes it roars.It starts above, in the Niagara River. Then, it will carry you into the rapids, over the brink, into the rocky depths below, and then to the massive, natural whirlpool.
For some troubled souls, the Falls are like the Golden Gate Bridge. They see an aspect of finality and think, “jumping from here will surely end my life.” But these steps might just save your life.
Step 1. Hold Your Breath
Instead of screaming, as you approach the brink, take as deep a breath as possible. And hold it as long as you can. The fall itself will be quick, but if you are lucky enough to survive the death-defying plunge, it’s best if your lungs aren’t filled with water.
About 20 people go over Niagara Falls each year, most intending to end their life. But fewer than 20 people have gone over without protection and survived. It’s possible but not very likely, and even people who have used elaborate, and carefully built contraptions, have ended up smashed to bits on the rocks below, dismembered from the fall, or suffocated from being sucked into the spray.
But if you’ve got a lucky four-leaf clover or a guardian angel on your side that day, it’s not impossible to survive. In 2013, Kirk Jones wore two winter coats for cushioning when he made his intentional trip over the falls, something he initially claimed was done to end his life but his family said it was a premeditated stunt.
He suffered broken ribs and a bruised spine but survived. He was charged by Canadian authorities for unlawfully performing stunt and criminal mischief and had to pay a $3,000 fine. Four years later, Jones decided to try his stunt again, plotting a second trip over the falls in an inflatable ball. He didn’t make it out alive that time.
Step 2. Feet First
Remember, such a steep drop will have a lot of force. Going over feet first lets your feet and legs take the brunt of the impact. This helps divers who jump from great heights, including cliff divers.
Step 3. Arms Up
Put your arms up over your head, your nose in your elbows, and try to protect your skull and face.
Step 4. Tense Yourself
Clench every muscle in your body as tightly as possible, including your lips. This makes you as water-tight as you can be without a wetsuit, or any proper equipment. And press your legs together too.
Step 5. Remember Your Swimming Lessons
The bubbles and turbulence at the bottom of the rushing, pounding water will make it hard for you to orient yourself. Finding out which way is up will be tricky, especially when you’re desperate to breathe. There’s also debris, and a kind of liquid dust from pulverized rocks, that makes the water under the falls even harder to see through.
If you’ve made it to the bottom alive, try and swim toward the surface. Come up through the foam. Then swim downstream, away from the froth, and out into the river. If anyone saw you go over, or if it’s tourist season,it’s possible someone has already called for help and a rescue team might be on the way.
Step 6. Chill Out
OK, we admit that staying completely calm is not very realistic. But try to be as calm as you can, so you can think better, and increase your chance of surviving. The adrenaline you’ll experience will help you, up to a point, just like it helps people lift cars, in moments of intense danger. You’ll want that superhuman strength.
Step 7. Don’t Fall In
The best way to survive falling into Niagara Falls is to not fall in. Obey all the many, many warning signs that advise people to stay off the rocks, barriers, and anything near the falls that could be slippery. Superman will NOT come swooping in out of nowhere to save you.
Police and rescue workers, who have pulled some of the incredibly lucky people who survived going over the brink, have mostly chalked it up to, well, luck. And speaking of luck, hopefully when you crawl out of the water, you won’t look up at the sky full of incoming asteroids.
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- “The First Person To Go Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel (And Survive)“. 2021. Wbur.Org.
- “How Going Over Niagara Works“.Garden, Home, HowStuffWorks, Adventure, Survival, and Survival. 2004. Howstuffworks.
- “How To Survive A Waterfall Plunge Using Science”. 2011. Popular Mechanics.