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 (149 Responses)
  1. ZombieHunter2012

    3 words...Rabid Ninja Squirrels (post them on the fence/guard rails to keep people away from it)

    May 23, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Huh?

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

    How do you arrive at THAT conclusion? No, seriously! That's it - a future high-wire stunt is prompting people to kill themselves! It couldn't be the fact that America is in a state of turmoil, the likes of which those of us living it have never seen! But you're right - it's possibly that upcoming high-wire stunt that sends people "over the edge" (pardon the pun)! Where do find these writers, CNN?

    May 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • laughingsalmon

      It's CNN...there is NO real stories anywhere on this site

      May 23, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • gihaddd

      Niagara Falls is in Canada, not in America, Canada is not in a state of Turmoil. Get your geography right.

      May 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      It was quite a leap in logic.

      May 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rob

    Growing up and living very close to the falls, the "how" is easy. Just go over the maybe waist high railing. I think that's one of the things that makes it a cool place to visit. You can get extrememly close to the edge, just like at the grand canyon or crater lake.

    May 23, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mickey1313

    I agree, but they are parasitic leechs, and only die when they don't have a host to feed off of.

    May 23, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mickey1313

    Too bad old Mark zuckerburg wont save face and follow this fine example.

    May 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Me

    Man.. I hope the guy who they haven't found yet is OK..

    May 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      Ah, probably not.

      May 23, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Helen

    glhadd - You get YOUR Geography right. The FALLS are in the US and CANADA. Thus, there is an AMERICAN side AND a CANADIAN side. That's YOUR geography lesson for the day. If you have learned anything, I hope that it's to know your facts before you proclaim that others do.

    May 23, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. set1


    "Niagara Falls is in Canada, not in America, Canada is not in a state of Turmoil. Get your geography right."
    Sir, get YOUR geography right. The "American Falls" lie entirely within the State of New York. HALF of the "Canadian Falls" also lies within the State of New York (the International Boundary runs down the center of the Niagara River between Goat Island and the Ontario shore). I do agree with you, that Canada is not in a "state of turmoil" (what ever THAT means).

    May 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CommonSensed

    Encase it in plexiglass so we can't fall in. We need make Nature safe for everyone! Sarcasm...

    May 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TanyaB

    Better question to ask is, who cares? If you're going to off yourself, might as well do it creatively.

    May 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CH

    There will always be stupid people. Stupid people do stupid things. This does not mean the rest of us are in any way obligated to dissuade them, physically prevent them, or clean up the resulting mess.

    May 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danedjo

      At least when they jump in the Falls it is not nearly as messy cleaning up. When you use a gun and blow your brains out it leaves a mess on the ceiling and walls not a very nice site at all. Happy jumping.

      May 27, 2012 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  12. Secord

    You can thank Peter B. Porter for the international boundary line drawn after the War of 1812 where the British, who apparently knew all about the water volumes in the Niagara River, drew the boundary at Niagara Falls so that the Canadian line just skirted Terrapin Point on Goat Island (USA), hence all of the Canadian Falls, as its name implies, lies in Canada (the Americans, sore, call it the Horseshoe Falls). The Americans were not at all pleased that the Canadian boundary included all of the Chippewa Channel of the Niagara River (west of Grand Island) where most of the water for hydroelectric power flows. Swim off the beach on Grand Island and you are probably in Canadian water. The boundary lines were not drawn down the middle of the channel – one may consult any navigation map and see this. I think suicides are occurring at Niagara due to the intensification of corruption and degradation of society on both sides of the River – which has also historically occurred during similar sectors of the business cycle.

    May 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Pinebelt Bob

    Why are they even allowing the stunt?

    May 23, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Nick

    The other day I read an article about the Empire State Building. Shame on them for mentioning it in an article though, cause immediately all I could think about was "gee, I really want to plunge to my death from the top of that lovely building!" Then there was a thing on the news about a gun show, and shame on them for covering it, cause of course the next day all I could think about was "man I would love to blow a nice hole in my brain with that pistol!"

    May 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Laura

    The suicide attempts have nothing to do with the walk. it happens here more than one would think. People go over the falls they just do not normally survive. However you only hear of the survivors for the most part. I live there so i see the local stories however they are not always printed.Working in the tourist industry you see and hear of the others. The casino and gambling could be a small factor for some but people go over much more than one would think. It would be easier to survive from the Canadian side as there are pockets where there are no rocks. U.S side is a pile of large rocks everywhere. There is zero connection to the high wire stunt at all.

    May 23, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
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