May 23rd, 2012
10:47 AM ET

After Niagara suicide attempts, questions about how and why

After two people tried to commit suicide by going over Niagara Falls in two days, local media were asking questions about the falls, including:

What could enable a person to survive a plunge?

Are suicide attempts from the falls on the rise?

Is a coming high-wire stunt walk over the falls encouraging the suicide attempts?

On Monday, a man plunged 180 feet over the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. He's now in a Hamilton, Ontario, hospital recovering from injuries that include several broken ribs, a collapsed lung and gashes to his head and shoulders, according to a report in the Buffalo News.

He was pulled to safety by emergency crews after collapsing in waist-deep water, according to a report from CNN affiliate WGRZ in Buffalo.

He is only the fourth person to survive a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls, historian Paul Gromosiak told the News.

The others include a 30-year-old Canadian man in 2009, a Michigan man in 2003 and a 7-year-old boy in 1960, according to the news reports.

The Toronto Star reports that thousands of people have gone over the falls, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, and asks why the known survivor cases are predominantly recent.

The paper points out that the three most recent survivors went over the railing on the Canadian side near the Table Rock House tourist building. From there, the Niagara River's 25 mph current pushed them over the falls.

Some have speculated that the men could have been pushed away from rocks at the base of the falls by a cushion of water, or that winds whipped up the crashing water, according to the Star.

The late Wesley Hill, a Niagara Falls expert, said in 2006 that the dynamics of the falls change based on the amount of water hydro companies take from the upper Niagara River, the Star reported.

But a man who has investigated the three most recent falls survivor cases isn't certain of any constant among them.

"The Niagara River is completely unpredictable," Niagara Parks Police Sgt. Chris Gallagher told the Star.

What is predictable is that the falls will attract people attempting suicide.

While the man in Monday's plunge survived, another person who went over the American portion of Niagara Falls on Tuesday apparently did not. A body has not been recovered, according to local media reports.

New York State Parks Police said Tuesday's suicide on the American Falls was the fourth this year, slightly ahead of a pace that usually sees nine suicides a year from the American side, according to the Buffalo News.

"We're running a little high," Lt. Patrick B. Moriarty of the State Parks Police told the News.

About 20 to 30 people commit suicide from both sides of the Niagara a year, according to the report.

Police usually don't publicize the suicides, Inspector Paul Forcier of the Niagara Parks Police on the Canadian side told the St. Catherine's Standard.

But a planned June stunt is bringing fresh publicity to Niagara Falls this year and has some questioning whether it is giving impetus to suicide attempts.

Renowned high-wire walker Nik Wallenda has announced he will attempt to walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls on June 15.

Wallenda told the News that the stunt should be encouraging anything but suicide.

"I'm doing the impossible, which is what a lot of people feel they can't do because they're depressed. Me making it across the wire and living shows people that they can achieve anything," the News quotes Wallenda as saying.

Wallenda will walk a 2-inch cable attached to massive cranes on each side of the falls, about 1,800 feet across, and 200 feet up from the bottom of the gorge. The crossing should take about 30 to 40 minutes and is planned to take place in early evening.

The last person to cross the gorge on a wire was James Hardy in 1896, but Wallenda said he will be the first to cross directly over the waterfall.

Psychologists disagree over whether the Wallenda stunt has any connection to suicides, according to the Buffalo News report.

"It's something else that kind of gets the falls out there, kind of plants a seed in people's minds," Timothy M. Osberg, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Niagara University, told the News.

Steven L. Dubovsky, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University at Buffalo, doesn't see any connection.

"It might have just reminded people that the falls are there. I doubt it would make people want to jump into the falls," the News quoted Dubovsky as saying.

Visitors to the falls on Tuesday told the Standard they didn't think anything could be done to make the tourist attraction safer.

"There are already signs posted telling people not to climb over the railings. Having more police or higher railings would just spoil it for everyone else. People will still climb over. People always do silly things,” the Standard quotes Stephen Moore, a British tourist, as saying.

“You can patrol these areas and try to make them safer, but at the end of the day, things happen. One way or another, they do,” Rich Inge, a tourist from Scotland, told the Standard.

Park police on both sides of the river are a bit more upbeat. They tell CNN affiliate WVIB that they've talked more people out of suicide at the falls than those who have actually gone through with it.

Suicide emergency phones on both sides of the river have made a difference, according to the report.

And anyone who suspects that someone they know is considering suicide of any kind should try to get them to talk, Mary McConnell of Jewish Family Service told WVIB.

Body of woman swept over falls recovered

Woman swept to death over Niagara Falls

Daredevil to attempt to cross falls on wire

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Filed under: Canada • Niagara Falls
soundoff (150 Responses)
  1. Dvo

    Why would a stunt, where the goal is to survive, inspire suicide attempts, which have the opposite goal?

    May 24, 2012 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. Agony Flips

    Well, if I remember correctly in 1980 Lois Lane survived going over the falls, and Superman saved everyone else so what's the problem?

    Then again everyone had to "kneel before Zod!" back then. It was a strange time.

    May 24, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  3. TriXen

    This just seems like a painful in risky way to commit suicide. What if something goes wrong and you just end up paralyzed? Then you'll REALLY wish you were dead. If you're serious about suicide, put a loaded gun to you temple and pull the trigger. Much higher chance of success than jumping from Niagara Falls.

    May 24, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bill

    Yeah, we need to stop advertising the Falls as a vacation destination for fear some jerk will jump in! LOL! Talk about PC!!
    Soon we'll have to accomodate literally every concievable errant behavior with preventive measures...what nonsense!

    May 24, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Shutter

      "accommodate literally every conceivable errant behavior with preventive measures" perfectly put. And precisely how educators are expected to manage classrooms now- no youngster shall feel the reality of natural consequences. The public demanded it..

      May 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. David

    I have a number of girlfriends in the Niagara falls area

    May 24, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Daisy Mae

      Exactly! Best comment so far.

      May 24, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. jim

    Living in Niagara Falls USA would make one want to go over the falls. That place is a dump.

    May 24, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Meagan

      It's a shame so many people choose to mock one of the greatest and still NATURAL wonders of the world. When was the last time you were in Niagara Falls? I challenge you to come see the beautiful changes our city has made. OR, to throw yourself over.

      As for the Wallenda Walk, it's a wonderful thing for our city. The publicity, the media, the hype. Hopefully more people will see the changes our wonderful city, and Mayor, have made, and it may end the nasty comments and reputation about the Falls.

      In regards to the recent hype and sudden increase in "jumpers"... It happens. more often than people think. What I don't understand is why journalists think it's newsworthy all of a sudden. It's as if people forgot Niagara Falls existed until Mr. Wallenda decided to stunt here. Which in turn gives one more good reason to have him do it.

      And by the way, no one is challenging the ferocity... He'll be wearing a safety harness making it impossible to fall to his death.

      May 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Matthew Kilburn

    "Thirty years of trickle-down supply side economics that have destroyed the middle class, health care, education, and any real chance for social mobility.....pretty sure that could the culprit."

    Also, potentially, drug use, divorce, continuing emotional distress from a broken family, or any number of other problems you could turn around and pin on liberal thinking, just as you're trying to pin it on Conservative economic policy.

    Or, more likely, it could just be someone with significant regrets in their lives, or some form of mental illness.

    Clearly, there is no way to prevent people from jumping over the edge....but maybe you could implement some form of nets to catch people before they go over?

    May 24, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • madmaninthemiddle

      Drug use, divorce and broken families are products of liberal thinking? So THAT's what led Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and even Ronald Reagan astray.

      Wonder why the rates for all 3 of these social ills is higher in the solidly conservative Southeast. Must be a liberal plot.

      May 25, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. Lauren Wolcott

    It is always sad and disheartening when someone feels so low that he attempts suicide. However, it is a stretch to think that people are influenced to try to commit suicide because of the Falls. Though daredevils can influence folks attempts to go over or span or fly over the falls, etc., I think we do need to realize that we are all not sheep.

    Aside from actually eliminating Niagara Falls–or anything that could potentially be a vehicle to death / suicide, there is not much that can be done about this except for what is already being done. The Grand Canyon has the same issues. They had a lot more instances.

    I am a little confused about the sudden desire to ask the question WHY as well–especially since this has been going on for years. NPR produced a radio feature years ago exploring this that addressed the magical draw of the Falls as on influential point. But, again, you can say exactly the same thing about the Grand Canyon and even the CN Tower. Buffalo's own City Hall has been the setting for demise as, I am sure, has been the Empire State Building, etc.

    So, again, I as why NOW...all of a sudden...does it make national news? And, why, do we need psychologists to explain this?

    Love seeing a little bit about my beautiful Niagara Falls (lived near there for most of my life). But, my question is why is this news?

    May 24, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  9. Hmm

    Oh,just let the stupid people jump in. They chose to do that!

    May 24, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. Newt Romney

    Actually they're a bunch of disgruntled Republicans. They ride their Pork Belly Barrels over the edge, fall then float right back to the top unscathed.

    May 24, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. patrick

    I gotta say, if suicide was in my future, it darn sure wouldnt be going over Niagara Falls! It seems that it would take too long and the end result could be worse than death. Hell, with my luck , i would survive and need 24 hour care. As far as this Wellenda dude, he is just plain NUTS!.....Just my opinion, thanks.

    May 24, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  12. PHinMiami

    I don't understand why Wallenda has been permitted to preform. Death-defying feats don't always end well and Wallenda is best to know (with his family history).

    Stop the show. Lets maintain respect for Niagara Falls, not challenge it's ferocity.

    May 24, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. kayaker247

    if I was that guy that survived this latest jump, I'd write a book! not only would it give him something to live for, he'd make a big bag of cash!

    May 24, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. ♚Mmmmm♛

    notta suicide...he one stopped one shopped to wash clothes, hair, and to take a bath...really a good deal...a helicoptor come gitcha and hang ya out to air dry...all for the price of a tossed coin over the right shoulder and a wish...can't beat that...warning: the wash cycles length varies and not responsible for washed items lost or not found... 🙂

    May 24, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Shutter

    "He is only the fourth person to survive a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls, historian Paul Gromosiak told the News." At least 14 people have survived trips over the Horseshoe falls, the first being Annie Edson Taylor 1901.

    May 24, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • madmaninthemiddle

      Were all of them unprotected? I know many have survived in barrels and such.

      May 25, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Danedjo

      only the fourth person to live after going over the falls. These four people that lived went over without the aid of a barrel or some form of capsule. Annie Taylor and all the rest went over in a capsule and some lived but most died.

      May 27, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
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