Man survives plunge over Niagara Falls

Third person in history to survive unprotected fall

First, he leapt 180ft off the Niagara Falls. Then a torrent of icy water relieved him of every stitch of clothing. Finally, after fighting off rescuers for 45 minutes, the naked swimmer became the third person in history to survive an unprotected plunge from the famous waterfall.

The 30-year-old Canadian was taken to hospital in a critical condition on Wednesday with hypothermia and a serious head injury.

Tourists saw the unnamed man scale a wall at about 2pm before he jumped into the Niagara River, which separates Canada from the USA in the north-western tip of New York State. Shortly afterwards he was spotted in the freezing water at the base of the falls, clinging to a floating log.

Pictures and videos taken by onlookers at the base of the Horseshoe Falls, one of Niagara's three main sections, showed the man resisting repeated attempts to get him to safety.

"He wasn't co-operative," the rescue helicopter pilot, Ruedi Hafen, told reporters. "We had a sling on him and he got out of it. He was on a suicide mission, I assume. I've never, in my career, seen someone so tough, swimming between the ice."

When the man was 60 yards from the bank, a firefighter, Todd Brunning, and a colleague swam out and dragged him to safety. He was conscious but unable to talk, they said.

Phil Richmond, a local resident, saw the rescue and told The Toronto Star the man had clearly tried to avoid being saved. "It appeared he didn't want to come into shore. I thought he was an idiot, to be honest with you. It looked like he was swimming, like he was one of those polar bear nuts who swim naked. I didn't realise he had gone over the Falls."

Just two other people have emerged intact from plunges off the Niagara Falls without protective clothing or the help of a sturdy wooden barrel. In 2003, an American tourist, Kirk Jones, jumped in what he later said was a "spur of the moment" act. Experts said his survival may have been helped by the relaxing effects of a bottle of vodka he downed before leaping.

In 1960, a 17-year-old swept over the Falls after his boat capsized upstream.

It is now against Canadian law to go over the Falls, but the Niagara Parks police chief, Doug Kane, would not say if the latest jumper would be charged. Police have struggled to obtain any meaningful information from him because of the effects of the near-freezing water.

"The male is fortunate to survive after going over the Falls and remaining in the icy water for about 45 minutes," Mr Kane said. "If it had gone on for much longer, he would have sunk."

Police expect the jumper to make a full recovery.

Niagara Falls survivors: From cats to 'miracles'

1829: Sam Patch, who called himself "The Yankee Leaper", is credited with inventing an American tradition of daredevil stunts after surviving the Falls in the first jump ever recorded.

1901: A cat called Iagara was sent over the falls in a barrel. Contrary to initial reports, the cat survived. Five days later, a Michigan teacher Annie Edson Taylor, 63, became the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel. Nursing a few cuts, Taylor declared: "No one should ever try that again".

1960: Seven-year-old Roger Woodward, the "Miracle at Niagra", survived an accidental fall over Horseshoe Falls wearing only a life jacket.

1989: The first two-person team to survive the Falls, Peter DeBernardi and Jeff Petkovich used a barrel made from a 12-foot steel reinforced tank.

2003: The first person to survive with only the clothes on his back, Michigan's Kirk Jones dived in head first.

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