What it feels like to jump from Niagara Falls
The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series reaches its finale in Dubai at 8pm on October 28th at Pier 7 in Dubai Marina. Even a cursory glance at YouTube is enough to convince most people of what an exciting sport it is to watch. Bear in mind that these are skilled professionals in controlled conditions – if launching from 27 metres up in the air and reaching 85kph before hitting the water in less than three seconds can be described as controlled.
And now check out this story below from the Esquire archives of a very different, clearly foolhardy and ill-advised jump, that somehow turned out all right.
On October 20th 2003, Kirk Jones became the first person to jump from the Horseshoe Falls unaided and survive. Sadly the 40-year-old’s friend, Bob Krueger, failed to capture it on videotape. But still, the jump is undisputed and Jones, who suffered only minor rib injuries and a court fine, lived to tell the tale, which he does here in his own words.
"It was a sunny day, cold and crisp, 11.30am. I was wearing just blue jeans, a T-shirt, tennis shoes, and a light red jacket. I could see the mist rising off Niagara Falls; you never see the bottom exactly, which is just kind of a void.
I’m afraid of heights. With that in mind, I walked downstream and picked a spot with an embankment down to the river. The river travels about thirty miles per hour, so I knew once I jumped in I’d have about forty-five or fifty seconds before I hit the edge of the falls at a famous sightseeing spot called Table Rock, 180 feet up. The night before, I’d taken my friend to a girlie bar. I thought I would like to have the happiest time I could before what might be my final day.
I stepped to the edge and put my arms behind me, but I couldn’t let go of the railing. I was so frightened of going into the unknown. But I remembered a schoolteacher told my parents once, “He’s a bright student, but he never completes assigned work.” And it was true; I was about to fail again. I was about to step back over the railing when a woman saw me and she said, “Hey, what are you gonna do, jump?” I said, “You know what? I think I will.” I let go of the railing, ran, and jumped into the river, and I heard her scream. Sheer panic went through my body. I was flying down the river, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.
The roar got louder and louder until it became deafening. I was about forty-five seconds upriver from the falls. I heard a sound like something being sucked down a drain. Then it felt like the largest pair of hands on earth came and yanked me. Instead of lying on my back, I was standing straight up, but I was flying through the air. My arms were flailing above my head, my eyes open. I did two or three corkscrew spins as I fell. The pressure was so intense, I thought it would rip my head and limbs from my body. And yet when I was looking out, I saw the sun shining through the water, and it was quite beautiful. It seemed as if I fell forever, though it was only about eight or nine seconds.
I crashed into the gorge and rocks and was hit by all the tonnage of the water on top of me. I hit my head and my side, but I was being pushed and barrel-rolled so many times that I didn’t know which way was up. When I was under the water, the roar was even louder. It felt as if fifty people with hammers were beating my body.
If felt as if fifty people with hammers were beating my body.
And then somehow I was out of the current. I spit out the water I’d taken in, I took a breath, and I was trapped in the rapids just below the falls. It took fifteen minutes, but I reached shore and caught my breath. My jacket was ripped to shreds; my shoes had been ripped off my feet. I heard a Canadian police officer calling out to me. They asked my name, and they said, “Congratulations, Mr. Jones. You’re the first human being to survive Niagara completely unprotected as you are. We’re glad you’re not seriously hurt, and you’re under arrest.” I pleaded guilty to the charges against me and was fined about five thousand American dollars and banned from Canada for a year.
When I went over Niagara that day, I wanted to show that I had for once achieved something I set out to do. I feel I left a lot of my problems and fears at the bottom of that gorge."
– As told to Daniel Torday and first published in the November 2009 edition of Esquire Middle East