a history of major accidents, rescues and tragedies
July 16th 1853 - three men working on a dredging scow (barge) which was anchored in the Niagara River east of Goat Island decided to go to shore during the afternoon. The only way to shore was by use of a row boat. As the three men started rowing to shore, they soon discovered that the current of the water was much stronger than they had anticipated. Suddenly one of their oars broke. The small row boat entered the American Channel rapids and swept downstream. The rowboat capsized. Two of the men were swept to their death over the brink of the American Falls. The third man, Samuel Avery, was able to grab onto some tree roots growing from a rock just east of Chapin Island. Avery spent the night stranded in the cool fast flowing water. The sound of the rapids prevented any of Avery's screams for help to be heard.
The next morning, Avery's plight was observed by several tourists. Efforts to rescue Avery began. Initial efforts consisted of releasing boats and raft from the Bath Island Bridge. None of the craft were able to reach Avery. Finally a boat which was tethered to the Bath Island Bridge was guided downstream and reached Samuel Avery. With little strength left, Avery was able to climb into the boat but the boat immediately capsized throwing Avery back into the turbulent waters. Throwing his hands up in surrender, Avery let out a final scream, fell backwards into the water and was swept to his death over the American Falls
February 4th 1912 - by noon on Sunday, approximately 35 persons were standing on the ice bridge which had formed covering the Niagara River below the Falls each winter. This ice bridge was huge, thick and solid, allowing people to cross the entire width of the Niagara River from Canada to the USA on the surface of the ice rather than using the International Bridges located downstream. Two such persons on this ice bridge were Eldridge Stanton, age 32 and his wife Clara Stanton, age 28, both of Toronto, Ontario. The Stanton's had been married for six years and had come to Niagara Falls twice each year; once in summer and once in winter since being married. They had arrived in Niagara Falls on Friday for a winter weekend visit. They strolled hand in hand as they crossed the ice field.
Also on the ice bridge were Ignatius Roth age 17 and Burrell Hecock, age 17, both of Cleveland, Ohio. William "Red" Hill was opening the little refreshment stand he built every year as soon as the ice was thick enough. With him were Monroe Gilbert and William Lablond.
Hecock and Roth were throwing snowballs and playing leapfrog.
Hill suddenly felt a small tremor under his feet. At the same time came a loud groaning sound from the base of the Falls which could be heard over the roar of the distant Falls. Immediately Hill recognized the danger and began running towards the Canadian shore as he shouted for the others to follow him. Lablond, Gilbert and the boys followed Hill. Mr. and Mrs. Stanton turned back towards the American shore.
The ice bridge began heaving up and down as the grinding noises became louder. The ice had began breaking apart. As the Stanton's ran towards the shore, they suddenly stopped a stones-throw width away as the ice separated from the shore and water appeared where the ice once was. As the gap began to widen, the Stanton's were frozen in place by shock for a second before turning and racing for the Canadian shore. As they ran, Clara Stanton began to slow and stumbled to the ice from exhaustion within 50 feet of the Canadian shoreline. Eldridge Stanton tried unsuccessfully to lift his wife. The ice field on which they were standing began to move. Stanton grabbed his wife and tried dragging her as he shouted for help from the men ahead.
Lablond was in waist deep icy water and with the assistance of Hill they pulled Roth to shore and shouted for Hecock to jump to safety. Hecock heard the cries for help from Stanton and turned around. Hecock rushed toward the Stanton's in a desperate attempt to save them. Hecock reached the Stanton's and helped Eldridge lift his wife to her feet. Together they tried to get Clara to shore but the gap between the ice and shore was quickly widening. The three were now stranded as the ice bridge flowed ever quickly downstream.
The ice sheet was swinging wildly. On this ice sheet, the Stanton's and Hecock paced back and forth. Hecock and Eldridge were seen talking while Clara stood holding her husband's hand. As they passed beneath the first of three bridges spanning the Niagara Gorge, the ice sheet seemed to edge towards the American shore. Directly downstream, a hydro-electric station was discharging water into the river. The pressure from this discharge crumbled the nearest edge of the ice forcing the three to the opposite side.
The giant ice sheet broke into two pieces. One half drifted towards the American shore while the other half on which Hecock and the Stanton's stood remained in mid-stream. The first half grounded out against the American shoreline. On each of the two lower bridges located three hundred yards apart, firemen, policemen and railway workers had stationed themselves in order to lower ropes to those stranded as the passed underneath.
Stanton was seen to place his arm around the waist of his wife. About a quarter mile above the rapids, the ice sheet broke in half again, this time separating the Stanton's from Hecock. Hecock waved and shouted something. Stanton returned the salute. Clara crouched down beside her husband. The river current was becoming faster as it neared the rapids.
Hecock's ice sheet remained in mid-stream. Hecock took off his coat in preparation of attempting to grab one of the dangling ropes. As he passed beneath the bridge, Hecock grabbed one of the ropes and swung free of the ice flow he was riding on. Hecock was plunged waist deep into the water as his rescuers attempted to lift him. As he was hoisted 60 feet above the water Hecock lost his grip of the rope and fell into the raging river below. Entering the rapids, Hecock was never seen again.
The Stanton's had watched Hecock's valiant attempts. As the flow swirled under the cantilever bridge, Stanton quickly grabbed the nearest rope and looped it around his wife's waist. As the flow continued and the rope became taunt, it broke. Stanton grabbed another rope as they passed underneath the Lower Bridge. He quickly tied the rope again around his wife's waist but changed his mind and untied the rope, knowing it would be futile. Stanton took his wife in his arms, kissed her and let her down. They both knelt together with his arms around her. The flow remained intact until it reached the giant wave in the rapids and spilled over throwing both into the raging water to their deaths.
Read more of Death on an Ice Bridge - A Story of Love & Valour
August 6th 1918 -
At about 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday August 6th 1918, a steel sand scow (barge) was engaged in dredging operation in the fast currents on the American side of the Niagara River opposite Port Day at the entrance of the Niagara Falls Power Company hydraulic canal. The scow was being towed by the tug boat - "Hassayampa" being operated by Captain John Wallace. The scow had two deck hands aboard. They were Gustave Loftberg, age 51 and Frank Harris, age 53. The tug and scow were owned and operated by the Great Lakes Dredge and Docks Company. During the operation, the tug suddenly struck a sandbar approximately a ½ mile upriver from the Falls. The taunt rope that held the barge to the tug snapped "like a thin string".
The powerless and empty barge quickly drifted out of control into the Canadian channel and towards the Horseshoe Falls. Loftberg and Harris were helpless and could do nothing to stop the scow. They were seen trying to slow the swift progress of the scow with the use of makeshift oars but with no success. Although some reports indicate that, they opened the two holes in the bottom of the scow to allow water to enter the barge, they simply had no time. Loftberg and Harris could only hope and pray for a miracle as they faced to see rising mist of the great Horseshoe Falls growing closer by the second. The roar of the Falls echoed in their ears. In a twist of fate, the scow became grounded and became lodged on a rock shoal at 2,500 feet (767m) upriver from the Horseshoe Falls in the shallow but fast moving cascades.
The alarm that the sand scow was being swept towards the Falls with two deck hands aboard spread throughout Niagara Falls, New York and the towns on the Canadian side. Hundreds of people crowded the buildings that lined the shore and the riverbanks to watch the human helplessness and the scow's progress. When the scow grounded it electrified everyone. Hundreds of men made for the point on the Canadian shore nearest the ledge.
Employees of the Toronto Power Company who had watched the scow drifting in the river from the roof of the company building rushed to telephones. Calls were sent to the fire departments in Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario and to the Life Saving Station in Youngstown, New York.
Benjamin Hall of Pennsylvania Street in Niagara Falls, New York witnessed the barge careening out of control through the rapids until it ground in mid stream just off the head of the island. At the urging of Mr. Hall, the Youngstown Life Savers (United States Coast Guard) were sent for.
Loftberg and Harris began ripping huge timbers from the inside of the barge and were seen throwing some overboard. They were actually building a makeshift windlass (a winch device) in hopes that if a rope line from shore could somehow reach them they would be able to secure the line to the barge in order to hopefully prevent the barge from becoming dislodged and moving any closer to the Falls. A bungled haul would mean the dislodging of the scow.
With sheer determination and with their very lives at stake, Loftberg and Harris completed building the clumsy windlass. The two stranded men could now only wait.
While awaiting rescue, Loftberg, thinking safety tied himself to the barge. Harris, on the other hand tied a rope around himself with the other end tied to a barrel. Harris thought that if the barge broke free, he could jump clear and hope that the barrel got caught up on more rocks.
A rescue boat could not be utilized to rescue the two men because of the distance, the turbulence of the rapids and the proximity to the Horseshoe Falls.
The Niagara Falls Fire Department was the first to arrive at the Power Company Building. They brought with them a small life saving gun. It was carried to the roof of the building. Chief A. H. Newman discharged the gun. The rope rolled out towards the barge. It spun out about 300 feet (91.4m) before falling into the river. A second attempt was made but with the same result. In the meantime an army truck bearing five men from the Life Saving Station in Youngstown and their equipment including a larger gun and longer ropes. The five men were on their way from Fort Niagara at best speed driven by Private Fred Daubney. The truck made the 25 mile trip in 35 minutes.
When the men from the Life Saving Station arrived with a gun capable of firing a lifeline to the scow, they mounted their gun on the roof of the Toronto Power House. The first shot to the scow with a light weight rope was successful shot over the barge. Loftberg and Harris grabbed the rope and began the process of pulling it aboard and connecting it to the windlass. In the meantime, the rescuers tied a much heavier rope to the end of the first rope. Loftberg and Harris began the long struggle of winding the rope in from the power house to the scow. The weight of the heavy rope was being carried downriver by the torrent of water and threatened in itself to dislodge the barge. At a time more than a hundred men on shore were needed to pulled the rope taunt in order to prevent this from happening.
After many hours of labor under terrifying conditions, Loftberg and Harris were able to bring the heavy rope aboard the barge and secure it to the windlass. By this time darkness had arrived.
With nightfall, huge searchlights were erected and trained on the scow and rescue rope. A breeches buoy (a chair like attachment) followed the line but became snarled half way across.
At 3 a.m. on Wednesday August 7th, Red Hill Sr. went out hand over hand along the rope as his body was tugged by the current of the rapids. Red Hill Sr. reached the tangled breech buoy and worked for hours until he was able to untangle it in order to allow the rescue.
With the arrival of dawn, thousands of people crowded the shoreline watching this drama unfold. At 8:30 a.m., Red Hill journeyed out again. This time Hill got within 130 feet (40m) from the scow. From here, he was able to talk to Loftberg and Harris. Hill discovered that one of the small coils of rope on the scow was wound around the big rope from the breeches-buoy, preventing the buoy from getting closer to the scow. Hill tried to shout directions to Loftberg and Harris but both had become so weak that they had difficulty untangling the rope. With Hill giving instructions and the persistence of both crew members, the rope was finally untangled. Hill returned to the roof of the Toronto Power House.
With Charles Possert and Thomas Darrington, both riggers from the Toronto Power Company working the lines, Hill was able to make his way to the stranded scow. Harris, suffering from hunger and exposure was the first removed from the scow to safety. Loftberg followed. It was 10 a.m. by the time Loftberg was brought safely to shore.
William "Red" Hill Sr. was awarded a Carnegie Life Saving Medal for his heroic efforts. The crew of the scow had been rescued without any loss of life.
May 1st 1950 - Two test pilots crawled out of a helicopter which crashed into the Niagara River approximately 300 yards upriver from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. This helicopter crashed during a rescue attempt to save a woman who had become stranded in the Niagara River approximately 75 feet from the shoreline of Goat Island. The two airmen and the woman were subsequently rescued by boat.
May 14th 1950 - a woman was reported clinging to rocks approximately 75 feet from the Goat Island shoreline in the upper Niagara River approximately 300 yards above the Horseshoe Falls. The woman was identified as Jeanette Bugay, age 25 of Niagara Falls, New York. How Mrs. Bugay came to be stranded was a puzzle which was never solved. Mrs. Bugay had been reported missing by her husband the day before this incident unfolded.
A pontoon equipped Bell 47D1 helicopter from Bell Aerospace Company in Niagara Fall, New York with two test pilots responded to this emergency. Pilot, Owen Niehaus, age 28 of Grand Island, New York and Co-pilot, Joseph Cannon, age 30 of Niagara Falls, New York arrived a short time later.
Hovering over the stranded woman, they attempted an aerial rescue of this woman. With the right side pontoon gingerly resting on a protruding rock, Cannon left the aircraft compartment and crawled onto this pontoon.
While standing on the pontoon and using an attached winch, Cannon was able to tie a rope around the hysterical woman's waist. The sudden movement of Cannon caused the nose of the helicopter to dip into the water. As Niehaus struggled to counter balance the helicopter, a wave struck the pontoon, forcing the tail rotor into the water and crashing onto some rocks. Cannon scrambled back into the cockpit as the helicopter flipped over onto its side a few feet away from the woman. Niehaus and Cannon were able to crawl out of the cockpit and onto the exposed pontoon. The woman who was held in place by the rope was lifted onto the pontoon by Cannon.
Firemen and policemen tried to guide an aluminum boat more than 100 yards downstream from the western tip of the Three Sister Islands however this was unsuccessful. A second helicopter called to the scene when rescue teams were unable to assist those stranded. The second Bell Aerospace helicopter, piloted by William Gallagher, age 29 and co-pilot George White, age 40 dropped a line to one of the stranded air crew. The helicopter then dropped the other end of the rope to the rescue teams on shore. The boat was attached to the second line which was stretched between the shore and the stranded victims. With several volunteers aboard the boat the boat was ferried across the rapids to the victims in a breeches buoy fashion. The boat was hand was guided to the rock. The three victims were able to climb aboard the boat and were pulled to safety over several trips.
According to my Dad he and the woman came over in the first trip of that boat, and Joe Cannon came over to land on the second trip. Owen never mentioned anyone from shore coming out to the helicopter, so I'm pretty sure it was just the folks from the craft in that boat during the two trips, no one else. Also, my dad said that the helicopter flipped upside down. He almost drowned while attempting to release his seat belt. They weren't quick release seat belts like they are today, and with his weight hanging down on it with him upside down it was extremely difficult to get open. Fortunately he succeeded! - Christine Niehaus (daughter) June 22nd 2010
The three victims were taken to St. Mary's Hospital suffering from shock, minor cuts and bruises. They were later released.
The three passenger Bell helicopter which was valued at $25,000 was subsequently salvaged.
June 7th 1956 - Jacob Schoellkopf built his second power plant directly in front of the original plant in 1895. The sides of the gorge were walled in. Behind the walls shafts carried water down the 210 feet to the turbines located just above the water level. Behind these shafts and rear walls of the new plant were old cuts in the rock face which were used during the era of the belt and shaft drive technology. Over the years, water seeping behind the wall had undermined the rock face of the gorge behind the plant.
On the morning of June 7th 1956, workers noticed water seeping into the plant from the back wall. By mid afternoon, the cracks in the rear wall were widening while 40 men worked with sandbags to stem the flow of water.
At 5:00 p.m., the Schoellkopf Power Station sustained a catastrophic collapse which destroyed two-thirds (2/3) of the plant. Six generators capable of producing 322,500 horsepower had been demolished. Damage was estimated at $100 million dollars. The most devastating was the sudden loss of 400,000 kilowatts of power from the power grid.
Suddenly a loud rumble was heard from
behind the wall and the wall began to collapse. One of the workers died. Employee, Richard
Draper, age 39 of Lewiston was killed. The rest escaped unscathed. The entire southern
portion of the plant collapsed into the river below. As the generators blew apart, some
debris was propelled to the Canadian side of the gorge.
December 1st 1961 - a U.S. Air Force F-100 Super Sabre Jet crashed and exploded in the Niagara River Gorge, narrowly missing forty workmen on the Queenston - Lewiston Steel Arch Bridge. Pilot Lt. Edward Metlot of New York City ejected from the jet before the crash and landed along the American shoreline.
July 9th 1960 - a seven year old boy named Roger Woodward became the first person to survive a plunge over the Falls without a barrel. Woodward and his 17 year old sister Deanne, both of Niagara Falls, New York set out that day on a harmless boat ride on the upper Niagara River with family friend James Honeycutt.
Honeycutt , age 40 years, of Raleigh, North Carolina, was a contractor at the Niagara Parks Commission hydro project. He had often taken the Woodward children out for a boat ride on his fourteen foot long aluminum boat with a seven and a half horsepower outboard motor. Mr. & Mrs. Frank Woodward trusted Honeycutt completely.
Honeycutt and the Woodward children began the boat ride about five miles upstream of the Falls where Honeycutt was living in a house trailer at the Lynch Trailer camp along the American shoreline.Approximately one mile upstream of the Horseshoe Falls, Honeycutt began to turn the boat in the opposite direction when the boat motor malfunctioned and quit running. On examining the engine, Honeycutt discovered that the propeller pin had sheared off. Honeycutt began rowing frantically towards the shore but the current was carrying the boat ever so quickly towards the Falls. Honeycutt ordered the Woodward children to put on their life-preservers. Honeycutt was too busy rowing to have time to put his life-preserver on.
Near the Falls the waves capsized the boat separating Deanne from her brother Roger and Mr. Honeycutt. Deanne held onto the side of the boat until a wave forced her under water. When she surfaced, she saw two men standing on the shore. John Hayes, age 44 years, a truck driver from Voxhall, New Jersey was visiting Terrapin Point on Goat Island when he saw Deanne in the water. Hayes grabbed Deanne by her fingers and called for help. John Quattrochi, age 39 years, a tourist from Pennsgrove, New Jersey came to help Hayes. Both men successfully pulled Deanne from the water.
Roger Woodward was in Honeycutt's arms as they approached the Horseshoe Falls. The raging water pulled them apart as they rode over the crest of the Falls. Roger Woodward was wearing swimming trunks and a pair of running shoes. The shoes were ripped from his feet on his way down the cascade. Woodward was forced into the 180 foot deep water at the base of the Falls but was quickly freed where he floated to the surface. It was 12:55 p.m., when the crew of the Maid of the Mist spotted tiny Roger Woodward bobbing up and down in the water. Captain Clifford Keech was at the wheel of the 270 foot long Maid of the Mist II. After eight minutes and three approaches to rescue Roger Woodward by using a life ring.Roger Woodward was taken to the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He sustained only minor cuts and bruises. Deanne Woodward was taken to Memorial Hospital in Niagara Falls, New York suffering from nothing more than shock.
James Honeycutt was battered and drowned.
February 11th 1963 - a light airplane crashes in a field above Dufferin Islands approximately 300 yards from the Niagara River. Four American men were killed instantly. The men, from Niagara Falls, New York had taken off at 10 a.m. from the St. Catharines - Niagara District Airport in a single engine Piper Tri-Pacer aircraft only a short time before crashing. The crash was subsequently determined to have been caused by structural failure of the main spar of the left wing.
April 24th 1966 - the Ontario Hydro icebreaker "Niagara Queen" with a crew of three men operating on the upper Niagara River in a blinding fog ran aground on a shoal near Tower Island (end of the International Water Control Dam). In order to rescue the icebreaker and it's crew, a twelve passenger Sikorski helicopter was brought in to drop a lifeline to the stranded boat. The Niagara Queen was then able to be towed to safety by an American icebreaker employed by the New York State Power Authority.
August 5th 1969 - an American sightseeing helicopter of Prior Aviation operating from Goat Island crashed at 3:40 p.m. into the upper Niagara River approximately 180 feet above the hydro control dam.
The pilot and two passengers were killed. The pilot was identified as Edward Horning, age 30 of East Aurora New York. The dead passengers were Louis Episcopo, age 53 and his companion Fillomena Pescatore, age 56, both from New Jersey.
Following the crash, the bodies of both passengers floated free from the wreckage and were swept downstream. The mangled helicopter containing the body of Horning was swept through one of the hydro control dam gates before grounding approximately 100 yards downstream, approximately 50 feet from the Canadian shore in 7 feet of calm water.
Two Bell Aerospace test pilots: Richard Carlin and Ernest Panapinto responded to an emergency call. They were able to swim out to the wreckage and recover the body of Horning. The body of Pescatore was immediately recovered from the river along the shoreline by Ontario Hydro employees. The body of Episcopo was recovered several days later at the base of the Horseshoe Falls.
The cause of the crash was attributed to engine failure brought on by fuel starvation (no/low gas). Witnesses reported that the doomed helicopter was only 200 feet above the surface of the Niagara River when its engine quit functioning. Witnesses saw Horning who appeared to be struggling to control the helicopter while the passengers appeared to be bracing themselves for a crash-landing.
Edward Horning was an experienced pilot with over 2,400 hours flying time as a pilot in the U.S. Navy.
July 26th 1972 - at 10:30 a.m., six passengers and two crew members riding on a thirty-five foot long nylon and rubber raft were thrown into the wild churning waters of the Whirlpool Rapids after hitting a rogue wave. The raft overturned throwing the eight people into the water. The Whirlpool Rapids attains a speed of approximately thirty miles per hour. All passengers and crew were wearing life preservers were whisked into the Whirlpool at the end of the rapids where they were rescued by a second raft which was followed the first through the rapids. Both rafts had been outfitted with 25 horsepower outboard motors but were no match for the mighty rapids. Trial runs through the rapids on May 23rd and May 25th satisfied the owners that the motors had sufficient power to control the raft. The rafts were owned by Niagara White Water Tours, a company formed George Grider and William Wendell, both executives of the Carborundum Company of Niagara Falls, New York The company was planning regular five mile raft trips through the Niagara River rapids to Lewiston, New York.
October 7th 1973 - at 3:30 p.m., four people were in a boat on the upper Niagara River approximately 200 yards from the Goat Island shoreline when the outboard motor struck a rock and quit functioning. The boat drifted towards the Horseshoe Falls. The three adults climbed out of the boat and stood in the shallow rapids as the boat continued over the Falls. The adult female was holding an infant in her arms. They were identified as Lee Switzer, Jerry Land, Joanne Horn and her 18 month old infant son. They remained stranded until help arrived.
In an attempt to effect a rescue, a sightseeing helicopter piloted by Dale Hartman and carrying two police officers: Sergeant Joseph Boyd and Officer James MacNeil attempted an aerial rescue. As the helicopter hovered above those stranded, the policemen crawled out of the cockpit onto the landing skids in an attempt to effect the rescue. One of the stranded men grabbed onto one of the struts causing the helicopter to tilt onto its side allowing the main rotor to strike the water. The helicopter burst into flames. Miraculously no one was seriously injured. Now the lives of eight persons were in jeopardy as they remained stranded.
The New York State Parks Police dispatched their boat with three police officers. Sergeant Lyse Newberry, Lieutenant Joseph DeMarco and Officer Anthony Larratta in a second rescue attempt, piloted a police boat into the rapids but immediately became stranded when the propeller of their outboard motor broke. Larratta and DeMarco jumped out of the boat and swam through the strong current to the stranded helicopter. Sergeant Newberry was swept down river in the boat to within one thousand feet of the brink of the Falls before jumping for his life. Newberry was able to grab a hold of a tree extending from Solon Island. Other officers forming a human chain pulled him to shore. Nearly two and a half hours after being stranded, the nine stranded people were able to walk to shore after safety ropes were sent to them by using a breeches buoy type gun. Ultimately everyone was rescued with little or no injury.
August 29th 1975 - a thirty-seven foot long air inflated rubber and nylon raft belonging to Niagara Gorge River Trips Inc. (owned by George Butterfield of Toronto) carrying twenty-seven tourist and two pilots capsized in the Whirlpool Rapids throwing everyone into the wild churning white water. Three passengers died from drowning. Twenty-six survived this ordeal. The accident occurred during the 11th trial run of this raft tour through the Niagara River rapids. The raft had departed from the Maid of the Mist dock at the base of the Prospect Point Tower and was about two mile downstream of a five mile route to Lewiston, New York. The three dead persons were identified as: Julia Martinez, age 30 of Toronto; David Ross, age 37 of Toronto and Anthony Sawczyk, age 24 of Niagara Falls, New York. Three of the survivors were admitted to the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center with serious injuries. Each of the passengers had paid fee of $20 for this journey. The youngest passenger was 16 years old and the oldest was 52 years old. Four of the passengers were women.
To further add to this tragedy, one man, piloting a 22 foot - 250 horsepower jet boat died of a heart attack while attempting to recover this raft from the Whirlpool
Niagara Gorge River Trips Inc. was the predecessor of the now defunct White Water Tour Company which pioneered white water rafting in the Niagara River with near tragic consequences. In July of 1972, during a trail run, six passengers were thrown into the water of the Whirlpool Rapids. On August 5th 1972, during its maiden commercial voyage, a pontoon broke away from the raft and a passenger was plunged into the rapids. On August 13th 1972, seven people riding through the Whirlpool Rapids were thrown overboard. Luckily no fatalities were reported. The company ceased operations on August 13th 1972.
January 10th 1978 - an equipment barge drifted away from a plant in Tonawanda, New York. The barge drifted downstream becoming grounded approximately 200 yards above the Horseshoe Falls. The barge owners, Simms and Associates were able to salvage the barge.
May 31st 1989 - a sightseeing helicopter owned and operated by Rainbow Helicopters of Niagara Falls, New York took off from its heliport adjacent to the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge near the Rainbow Bridge. Pilot Mark David Felderstein, age 25 was flying with three passengers aboard: Louis Clements , age 47 of the State of Georgia and his wife , Mildred Clements, age 45 of Brockton, Massachusetts and their daughter Lisa Clements, age 24 of Quincy, Massachusetts. As Felderstein piloted his aircraft northward along the length of the Niagara Gorge, the helicopter's landing rails on its undercarriage struck the wire cables of the Spanish Aero Car which extend across the entire width of the Whirlpool.
The landing rails on the helicopter were torn away. The helicopter narrowly missed colliding with the Aero Car which was crossing the Whirlpool at the time and carrying 17 persons. None of the Aero Car occupants were injured. The Aero Car cables remained intact and sustained no substantive damage.
Narrowly escaping one catastrophic event, Felderstein and his passengers were facing a crash landing without landing gear. Felderstein was able to control the helicopter and maneuvered it to the 10th hole of the Whirlpool Gold Course adjacent to the Whirlpool.
In order to ensure the safety of his passengers and fearing the helicopter would roll over upon landing, Felderstein hovered his helicopter several feet off the ground at full power. On the instructions of Felderstein, the three passengers were able to jump to the ground from the stricken aircraft and run to a safe distance to the front before Felderstein attempted this dangerous landing.
Mark Felderstein gently lowered his helicopter onto the golf course to a safe landing with no injuries to he or his passengers and with minimal damage to the aircraft.
Although there was much to be said about the low level flight of this helicopter, regulations at that time allowed for a minimum height of only 500 feet over undeveloped areas such as the Niagara River gorge.
September 29th 1992 - on Tuesday at 12:19 p.m., four persons were killed as two sightseeing helicopters collided in mid-air.
The collision took place in Canadian air space approximately 100 meters (330 feet) west of the Horseshoe falls in front of the Minolta Tower and Incline Railway. The weather was crisp and clear. Wind wasn't a factor.
Two men and two woman aboard the American sightseeing helicopter owned and operated by Rainbow Helicopters of Niagara Falls, New York died. The American helicopter, a bright red Hughes 500E, was piloted by Ben Porawski, age 43 of Kendall, New York. Porawski had worked for Rainbow Helicopters for fifteen months. He was an experienced pilot with service in the Marines and U.S. Army.
Rainbow Helicopters was based at a heliport located at 454 Main Street, Niagara Falls, New York, adjacent to the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge.
Niagara Helicopters Limited operated from a heliport located on River Road at Victoria Avenue in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
The Canadian helicopter, a Bell Jet Ranger i206 which was owned by Niagara Helicopters Limited was being piloted by Rodolfo DeCastro, age 42 of Niagara Falls, Ontario. He was carrying four Spanish speaking passengers identified as Ana Torredemer Morcet, age 33 of Barcelona, Spain; Anna Maria Espinosa Equizabel, age 60 of Madrid, Spain: her husband, Carmen Estefania Garcia, age 64 of Madrid, Spain and Santiago Grau Carci, age 39 of Barcelona, Spain.
DeCastro was an experienced pilot and a veteran of the Phillipine Air Force.
Following the collision, DeCastro was able to bring his badly damaged aircraft to a safe landing in the parking lot of Marineland located approximately 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the crash scene.
Witness, Michael Folemsbee, a six year Niagara Parks employee described the crash as "one helicopter passed over the other and its wheels smashed off the tail of the other".
The American helicopter dropped from the sky like a stone following the collision. It was missing its tail section and main rotor. The cockpit compartment crashed into the base of the moraine beside the Incline Railway. The occupants died on impact with the ground. The bodies of the victims remained in the tangled wreckage until they were removed at approximately 8:55 p.m. that evening. The dead passengers were: Amnon Sarfate, age 26 of Brooklyn, New York; his fiancée, Esther Zarian age 23 of Brooklyn, New York; and Orna Levy, age 19 of Queens, New York.
The victims had come to Niagara Falls for a short visit with two other family members. Sadly, Amnon's sister, Nimrod Sarfate and Zarion's sister, Genya Zarion who remained on the ground both witnessed the crash that took the lives of their family members.
Folemsbee further described the collision as "it appeared the American was flying toward the Falls and the Canadian was flying away towards the escarpment".
The Bell Jet Ranger helicopter features a seven foot cockpit/cabin, carries four passengers and a maximum load of 3,208 pounds. The Hughes helicopter was smaller and could carry four occupants.
The crash was investigated by the Canadian Transport Safety Board. The cause of the crash wasn't immediately determined. Preliminary reports indicated that the American helicopter came up beneath the Canadian helicopter and that the entire right front of the cockpit/passenger compartment on the Canadian helicopter was heavily damaged. According the DeCastro, the American helicopter actually struck DeCastro's shoulder and nearly pulled him out of his pilot seat. Only DeCastro's seat belt prevented this.
On February 8th 1994, sixteen months after the crash, the Canadian Transport Safety Board issued a thirty page report on the cause of this accident. The Board ruled that no one was to blame because neither helicopter pilot saw each other in time to avoid this collision. The Board found that both helicopters were operating on a flight path which took them within a 200 foot altitude separation. The American helicopter was overtaking the Canadian helicopter from below when the main rotor blades of each helicopter made contact with each other. Part of the main rotor on the American helicopter was severed. The tail and tail rotor of the American helicopter made contact with the right front of the Canadian helicopter. The tail portion of the American helicopter was severed by the main rotor of the Canadian helicopter.
The Canadian helicopter was operating at 2,500 feet while the American helicopter was operating at 2,183 feet (183 feet above Rainbow Helicopters maximum ceiling).
Existing rules at the time of this accident allowed helicopters to circle over the Falls at a height of 610 - 670 meters (2,000 - 2,200 feet).
Date last updated: February 20, 2012
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