Man survives 180ft plunge over Niagara Falls

A man has survived a plunge of 180ft (55m) over the Niagara Falls, becoming only the second person in more than 100 years to go over the falls with no protective device and live.

The apparently distraught man, believed to be in his late thirties, jumped into the rapids above the Horseshoe Falls, one of Niagara's three waterfalls. After making it safely to the bottom, he repeatedly resisted attempts to save him, swimming away from rescuers and climbing out of a sling dropped by a priviate helicopter.

Police were alerted by a tourist who told them that he had seen a man climb over a retaining wall and jump into the Niagara River. But as Falls rescue crews tried to help him, he swam away from them toward them middle of the river, Doug Kane, the Niagara Parks Police chief, said. He "voluntarily entered the water and refused medical assistance at the bottom". he added.

A private helicopter swept low over him so that the wind from its blades forced him close to shore but he still fought off rescuers said the pilot, Ruedi Hafen.

"He wasn't co-operative," said Mr Hafen, the owner of Niagara Falls Helicopter. "He didn't try to be helpful. We had a sling on him and he got out of it."

After about 45 minutes in the water avoiding capture, the man was caught in an eddy, enabling rescuers to swim close enough to grab him from behind, according to David Belme, the Niagara fire faptain.

"He was on a suicide mission, I assume," said Mr Hafen. "I've never, in my career, seen someone so tough, swimming between the ice."

The man is in a critical condition in Niagara Falls hospital, with hypothermia and a head injury. When he was pulled out of the water he was unable to speak, according to one of his rescuers, who said that it was surprising he was even conscious after so long in the freezing water.

The Horseshoe Falls on the border of Canada and the USA, one of the world's most popular tourist attractions, sends about 675,000 gallons of water over its edge every second. The only other person to survive a deliberate leap over the rapids was Kirk Jones, from Michigan, who climbed down a small embankment and jumped into the Niagara River in 2003. He said he had been depressed and had been drinking.

A seven-year-old boy also survived a fall in 1960 after the boat he was in capsized.

Only one other person is known to have survived a plunge over the Canadian side of the falls without a barrel or other protective gear. Sam Patch, a professional daredevil, jumped into the Niagara twice for a stunt in 1829. He died in a later stunt.

No one has survived a trip over the narrower and rockier drop on the American side.

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