June 17, 2004


Without a Barrel: Surviving Niagara? No sweat. The real challenge is figuring out what drove Kirk Jones over the edge. (Jake Halpern, June 2004, Outside)

ON A CRISP AFTERNOON last October, Kirk Jones climbed over the steel safety rail at the top of Niagara Falls and contemplated the troubled direction of his life. From his perch, Jones had a clear view of the Niagara River, where a frothing torrent of Class VI rapids roiled for several hundred feet before reaching the precipice beyond. A heavy mist swirled around him, and a dull roar filled his ears.

"I just couldn't let go of that railing," he recalls. "As much as I wanted to, a part of me said, No. No human being has ever done this and lived."

It was, oddly enough, a situation Jones had imagined many times before. "Ever since I was six, I've been fascinated by Niagara Falls," he says. "I wondered whether a human being could go over, without a barrel or a life jacket, and live. I've always thought there must be a way."

Jones had visited the falls a handful of times since childhood; now he was rapidly approaching middle age, without a job, a wife, or a home to call his own. As he puts it, "I was a 40-year-old man with no purpose." This grim realization prompted Jones to round up $300 and convince a friend, 52-year-old Bob Krueger, to make the five-hour drive from Detroit to Niagara Falls, New York. They arrived on October 19 and spent most of Kirk's money at local bars and a strip club before crashing at a cheap motel. The next day, as a skeptical Krueger stood by pointing a video camera, Jones vacillated above the water.

It was a stranger's voice that finally convinced him to go for it, that of an unidentified woman who happened to be taking in the view. "So, what are you going to do—jump?" she called out sarcastically.

"Yes, ma'am, I think I will," Jones replied. Right then, he let go of the railing, dashed down an embankment, and leaped into the current. Moments later, he flew feet first over the brink of Horseshoe Falls (the Canadian side of Niagara), plunging 170 feet into the water below.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 17, 2004 8:22 AM

Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned...

Posted by: Rick T. at June 17, 2004 2:12 PM
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