Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda crosses Niagara Falls on a wire Friday.
By Geoff Robins, AFP/Getty Images
Nik Wallenda has become the first person to tightrope walk directly over Niagara Falls, crossing through the falls' famous mists and gusts in less than a half hour Friday night while tethered to a wire at the insistence of the network televising the stunt.
Wallenda, seventh-generation scion of the Flying Wallendas circus troupe, slowly walked 1,800 feet - six football fields - from the U.S. to Canada, 200 feet above the roiling Niagara River.
"This is something no one in the world has ever done,'' he said after presenting his passport to a Canadian immigration officer. "Even though I had a tether, I didn't have to use it.''
Wallenda methodically moved along the swaying, slippery wire, which was dripping with water, while carrying a 40-pound balance pole. He repeatedly offered prayers of thanks and praise to Jesus Christ, which were audible to the television audience via a body microphone.
He had time to joke - "most water is wet,'' he allowed at one point - and admitted to his father that he felt like a "jackass'' wearing the safety harness
After months of hype, Wallenda made the walk look easy, almost anti-climactic. He neither faltered nor tottered, and didn't stop to make a cell phone call, as he sometimes does, or perform any other stunt.
As he approached the Canadian side he pumped his right fist and dropped briefly to one knee. He pranced the final few steps.
But he said the crossing wasn't easy: "That mist was thick. It was hard to see at times. ... The wind was wild. It'd come at me one way and hit me from the front, and hit me from the back."
While he was still out on the wire, he'd said, "I'm drained. ... My hands are going numb. I feel like I'm getting weak.''
Weather instruments showed winds gusting up to around 14 mph over the falls at the time of the walk.
The walk was witnessed by a crowd estimated in the tens of thousands, which roared with delight as he left the American side and later as he approached Canada.
"It's a great achievement,'' said Jackie LeClaire, a clown and acrobat who performed with the Ringling Brothers Circus for 20 years. "It would have been an ever greater one if they hadn't made him wear that tether.''
ABC, which televised the walk live, insisted that Wallenda wear a harness connected to the wire to spare its viewers the possibility of seeing the daredevil fall to his death.
But Wallenda's family - the Flying Wallendas acrobatic troupe - is famous for working without a net or its equivalent. And few if any of the other dozen people to walk over the Niagara River near the falls used such a safety device.
Before the walk, Wallenda said he only wore the harness because he needed ABC's financial support for cover the costs of his project, which topped $1 million.
LeClaire said that even with the tether, the walk was particularly challenging, "because aerialists always try to calculate risk. Nik couldn't do that because this walk had never been done before. The humidity, the water, the wind - so many unknowns!''
Some speculated before the walk that Wallenda would drop the tether en route.
"I'm betting he takes it off," New York State Sen. George Maziarz, who co-sponsored legislation to give Wallenda a waiver to the century-old ban on stunting at the falls, told the Buffalo News. He said be doubted ABC would interrupt its live feed even if Wallenda did take off the harness. With millions watching, "It's gonna add to the drama," Maziarz said.
Paul Gromosiak, a local historian whose books include one on Niagara Falls daredevils, said the last confirmed wire crossing near the falls was in 1896. He said the proximity of Wallenda's wire to the falls made his walk far riskier than any other.
Wallenda practiced on a wire in the parking lot of a local gambling casino, and had himself sprayed with a fire hose and buffeted by a wind machine to simulate the conditions he'd face over the falls.
As for distractions, such as wind gusts and helicopters, he said, "I've trained all my life not to be distracted by distractions.''