February 16, 2024 | Allison Robertson

25 People Who Took the Plunge Over Niagara Falls


People Who Took the Plunge Over Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a group of three massive waterfalls that are a popular tourist destination for people all over the globe.

What makes these waterfalls so breathtaking is the combination of height and extreme volume. But with powerful water comes serious danger.

More than 5,000 people gone over the Niagara Falls, with about 40-50 people making the plunge each year. Not all are accidents though, some people actually do it on purpose. 

Here are 25 people who went over the falls, some survived, some did not.

water fall and child split image

Location

The Niagara Falls are located at the southern end of Niagara Gorge, spanning the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York in the United States.

The largest of the three is Horseshoe Falls, which straddles the international border of the two countries.

Niagara GorgeAd Meskens, CC BY-SA 3.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

Characteristics

It’s important to first know just how powerful this entire body of water is, so that you understand the magnitude of what happens to a human being going over them.

The power is driven by the force/flow of the water, combined with the height the water falls from. As well, what lies below the falls significantly adds to the danger.

Niagara FallsRoman Babakin, Pexels

Characteristics: Height

Horseshoe Falls is whopping 187 ft high and 2,590 ft wide.

The height of the American Falls is 98 ft at its highest part, and 1,050 ft wide.

Canadian Falls (Horseshoe Falls), Niagara FallsThomaswm, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

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Characteristics: Flow

Most of the tallest falls in the world have very little water flowing over them. Although Niagara Falls isn’t the tallest waterfall, its definitely one of the most powerful due to its volume and speed of water.

An impressive 3,000 tons of water flow over the falls every second.

Speeds are recorded at 68mph. The rapids above the falls reach a maximum speed of 25mph.

Niagara FallsAnna Brzozowska, Shutterstock

Characteristics: Below the Falls

The deepest section of the Niagara River is just below the falls at a profound 170ft. The speed of the current makes the deep, treacherous water even scarier, at 35mph.

Also, there are countless giant rocks at the bottom of the falls that can easily destroy things on impact.

Thousands of people have met the bottom, either intentionally or accidentally, and some have even lived to tell the tale.

Niagara FallsShanea Strachan, Pexels

Joseph Avery, 1853

Avery was in a boat with two other men, rowing from Goat Island to the mainland when their boat capsized.

The other two men went over the falls immediately. But Avery grabbed onto a tree branch and held on tight for an impressive 18 hours. Several attempts were made to rescue him.

One boat succeeded, but then it also capsized, throwing Avery back into the water.

Sadly, none of the men from the boat survived.

Joseph Avery, 1853, NiagaraLibrary of Congress, Picryl

Annie Edson Taylor, 1901

The first person ever recorded to survive going over the falls was school teacher Annie Edson Taylor, who purposely went over the falls inside an oak barrel as an adventure stunt to hopefully make her money.

She was 63 years old, and she performed the stunt on her birthday in October. Sadly, her financial gains were minimal.

Annie Taylor,  over Niagara Falls in a barrelFrancis J. Petrie Photograph Collection, Wikimedia Commons

Ed Delahanty, 1903

Delahanty was a baseball player who was later elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was swept over the falls after falling from a railway bridge where he was recently kicked off a train for being tipsy and disorderly.

Delahanty's body was later recovered near the Maid of the Mist's dock; his body was mangled and one leg was severed.

Edward James Big Ed DelahantyGoodwin & Company, Wikimedia Commons

Bobby Leach, 1911

Leach was a circus freak who went over the falls in a metal barrel.

He survived, but he spent six months in the hospital afterward, recovering from two broken knee caps and a fractured jaw.

Bobby Leach and his barrelRobert Leach, Wikimedia Commons

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Charles Stephens, 1920

Stephens was from Bristol, UK. He made the journey to the falls to intentionally go over in a barrel, like Leach before him. Leach had urged him to test his barrel first, but Stephens didn’t listen.

Stephens went over the falls in his barrel, but when the barrel surfaced the only part of him that was left was his right arm.

Charles Stephens Barrel 1920Google books, Wikimedia Commons

Jean Lussier, 1928

Lussier was another daredevil in search of a thrill. He decided to change the game this time though, and he went over the falls in a large ball with a spring steel frame and a rubber covering.

Miraculously, he survived.

Jean Lussier following his successful daredevil stunt over Niagara FallsTNstingray, Wikimedia Commons

George Stathakis, 1930

Stathakis, a small-time chef in Buffalo, also set out for adventure and went over the falls in a barrel. But this time, the barrel got stuck behind a curtain of water and could not be recovered for over 18 hours.

Stathakis only had enough air inside the barrel to last him eight hours, so although it is believed he survived the initial fall, he ended up suffocating.

Bonus fact: Stathakis took along his 150-year-old pet turtle. The turtle survived.

Niagara FallsBeth Fitzpatrick, Pexels

William "Red" Hill, Jr., 1951

Hill was the son of a local hero and well-known daredevil. He followed in his dad’s daring footsteps when he went over the falls in a craft he named “The Thing”.

The craft broke upon impact and Hill didn’t survive; his body was found the following day.

This was the final straw—American and Canadian authorities officially banned public stunts at the falls after this.

William Red; Jr. on Niagara FallsToronto Star Archives, Getty Images

Roger Woodward, 1960

Woodward was only seven years old when he was swept over the falls.

Woodward and his sister were in a small fishing boat with one adult. The propellor stopped working. They were about 1 mile from the falls.

The boat capsized in the rapids. Onlookers raced to help, and his sister was rescued a mere 20 feet from the edge of the falls. Woodward wasn’t rescued in time and went over the falls.

Fortunately, he was wearing a life jacket, so he stayed buoyant and was rescued by the maid of the mist.

Roger Woodward, the 7 year old who fell in  Niagara FallsBettmann, Getty Images

James Honeycutt, 1960

Honeycutt was the driver of the boat that capsized with seven-year-old Roger Woodward and his sister. Unfortunately, Honeycutt did not survive the fall.

Falls NiagaraSaffron Blaze, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

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Nathan Boya, 1961

Boya (born William Fitzgerald) went over the falls in a rubber ball nicknamed the "Plunge-O-Sphere". The ball hit rocks on impact and bounced, but Boya was miraculously uninjured.

Plunge-O-SphereAdam White, Flickr

Hesham Sayegh, 1981

Sayegh was a two-month-old baby who was dropped over the falls by his 27-year-old mother. She dangled him over the railing for several minutes before dropping her infant into the crashing waters below.

The baby’s tiny body was never recovered.

The mother was originally charged with second-degree homicide, but the charges were dismissed.

American NiagaraRobert F. Tobler, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Karel Soucek, 1984

Soucek was another person who went over the falls in a barrel. He was reportedly under the water for a concerning amount of time, but eventually emerged with only minor injuries to his face caused by his wristwatch during impact.

His speed over the falls was recorded at 75 mph. It took 45 minutes to recover him and the barrel.

Niagara Falls boat toursNick Starichenko, Shutterstock

Steve Trotter, 1985

Trotter also went over the falls in a barrel. It was his second attempt, actually. The first attempt was intervened by authorities a year prior.

Trotter survived the fall with no major injuries. He was only 22 at the time, making him the youngest person to survive the plunge in a barrel.

Niagara FallsEthan Sahagun, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

David Munday, 1985

Munday had made several attempts at going over the falls in a barrel. His first attempt failed when the Dam Control reduced the river depth and grounded his barrel. The second attempt failed when his barrel got lodged at the top of the falls.

His third attempt was successful and he survived with no injuries.

The Niagara Tunnel Project.Joe Fielder, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Peter De Bernardi & Jeffery James Petkovich, 1989

De Bernardi and Petkovich went over the falls together in a reinforced barrel. They performed the stung to draw attention to an anti-substance campaign.

About a year later they made another attempt but were stopped by authorities.

Niagara Parks PoliceCan Pac Swire, Flickr

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Jessie Sharp, 1990

Sharp had plan: He was to kayak over the falls, and continue paddling down the river to a restaurant where he set up a dinner reservation.

After beginning the plunge in his plastic kayak, he quickly disappeared into the falls. His kayak was recovered, but his body was not.

Unfortunately, Sharp refused to wear a lifejacket in case it hindered his ability to escape. He also refused a helmet in order to keep his face visible for cameras.

A person in a white kayak paddles the Niagara RiverJoanne Dale, Shutterstock

Steve Trotter & Lori Martin, 1995

Trotter made his second descend over the falls with a partner this time, Lori Martin. Amazingly enough, the two survived, making it Trotters second successful plunge over the falls.

Stunt man Steve Trotter being sent to the hospitalSan Francisco Chronicle, Getty Images

Robert Overacker, 1995

Overacker went over the falls on a jet ski to raise awareness for the homeless. He wore a rocket propelled parachute with the plan to drop the jet ski and slowly descend into the water below.

Unfortunately, his parachute failed and he fell to his demise.

Person on jet skiMAGNIFIER, Shutterstock

Kirk Jones, 2003

Jones approached the adventure a little differently. While feeling a little tipsy with his friends, he made the impulsive decision to swim over the falls and see if he survives. His friends planned to record the event.

Jones started swimming about 100 yards away from the brink of the falls and then went over the edge with his arms in the air.

His friends weren’t able to work the recorder, so it wasn’t document, however Jones did survive. He was fined $2,300 CAD. He had then told authorities it was not a stunt; it was actually an attempt at ending his life.

His name will come up again later in the list.

Niagara River in front of Niagara FallsStockMediaSeller, Shutterstock

Unnamed, 2009

A 30-year-old Canadian man went over the falls in an attempt to end his life. During the ordeal his clothes were ripped off and he suffered a head injury and hypothermia, but he survived.

His name is not mentioned to protect his identity.

Niagara FallsLudmila Ruzickova, Shutterstock

Ayano Tokumasu, 2011

Tokumasu, a 19-year-old Japanese exchange student, was swept over the falls. Surveillance cameras in the area show her climbing onto the railing near the water's edge and sitting on a pillar block.

She stood up, lost her balance, and fell over the edge into the Niagara River, about 66 feet upstream from the falls.

Her body was recovered 4 days later.

sightseeing boat at the Niagara Whirlpoolquiggyt4, Shutterstock

Unnamed, 2012

An unnamed man in his early 40s became the fourth person to survive an unprotected trip over the Horseshoe Falls.

Witnesses report seeing his “deliberately jump” into the river after climbing over a railing, in what is believed to be an attempt at ending his life.

He survived, but with life-changing injuries.

old man  looks at niagara fallsstarmaro, Shutterstock

Kirk Jones, 2017

Jones was mentioned earlier in the list. He was the tipsy guy that swam over the falls and survived. He got a whopping fine for the stunt, and then told authorities it was actually not a stunt after all, and that he had intentions of ending his life.

Well, in 2017 he did it again. This time he perished in the fall.

Man looking at Niagara FallsOleksii Klonkin, Shutterstock

Unnamed, 2019

At about 4:00am, authorities were called to a person in crisis at the brink of the falls. As soon as officers arrived, the man jumped, going directly over the falls.

Officers then searched below and found the man sitting on the rocks near the water’s edge just up from the falls.

Niagara FallsHashim Gaad, Pexels

Statistics

This list only included 25 names of the thousands of people who have gone over the Niagara Falls.

Between 1958 and 1967, an average of 7 people per year went over the falls. From 1978 to 1988, the average was 12 per year.

Niagara fallsLucas George Wendt, Pexels

Statistics: Intentional Acts

The majority of fatalities are intentional attempts at ending their lives. Many of these cases are not publicized by officials.

By 1900, approximately 1,000 people were believed to have gone over the falls with intentions of ending their lives.

In 2011, it was reported that 5,000 bodies had been recovered from the foot of the falls since 1850.

Of the daredevil attempts, the survival rate is a surprising 75%.

2336338841Beautiful Niagara Falls boat and with tourist wearing rain jacketsVadim 777, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Some say Niagara Falls has a “hypnotic allure” that gives people the uncontrollable urge to jump into the powerful, swirling waters.

It’s a terrifying thought, though. All visitors to the Niagara Falls are urged to adhere to safety precautions and do not attempt any sort of adventure over the falls.

Not only is it unlawful and strictly enforced, it is also highly dangerous.

Niagara fallsLidiia Kozhevnikova, Shutterstock


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