THE DEADLY FALLS OF NIAGARA
Niagara Falls. They are beautiful, vast, and deadly. The falls of Niagara have claimed the lives of literally thousands. Many are the victims of accidents, many of suicide attempts, and a number of them daredevils.
But it’s not just the falls themselves – which plunge 173 feet from the upper ledge of dolomite to the deep churning pool below – that take so many lives. It’s the “class-6” rapids – both those above and those below the falls that are dangerous. For instance, many daredevils who have simply tried to float Whirlpool Rapids (just below the falls) in barrels have become trapped (some sucked beneath the surface) for hours in the deadly vortex until drowned.
This happened to champion swimmer Matthew Webb in 1883, to James Scott in 1886, to Robert Flack in 1888 and to female daredevil Maude Willard in 1901. The descent of the Niagara River rapids is so steep that its waters move at speeds in excess of 40 miles per hour.
Of course, the rapids are not nearly as deadly as the falls themselves. Surviving the 170-foot drop borders on the impossible. For instance, in 1920 Charles Stephens’ barrel hit the bottom so hard that it shattered. The only part of his body that was ever recovered was his arm – still strapped to a piece of his barrel. Then there is the danger of getting trapped in the “washing machine from hell” at the bottom of the falls. One example of this took place in 1930, when George Strathakis’ barrel was trapped for 22 hours at the bottom of the falls. He survived the fall only to die of asphyxiation. The bodies of many (e.g. Jesse Sharp in 1990) have never been released from the falls’ churning grip. To this day their remains have never been found.
Keep all this in mind when you think of 7-year-old Roger Woodward and his 17-year-old sister Deanna. On a hot July afternoon in 1960 Jim Honeycutt, a friend of the father, gave them a ride in his 12-foot motorboat about a mile above the falls. But they wandered too close to the upper rapids and capsized. Then, for more than a mile they had to swim the deadly “class 6” rapids that hurdled them to the terrible falls and oblivion. Roger lost sight of his sister and their adult companion. As he raced past the stunned spectators he cried to them for help. But he was too far out. Then, suddenly two men near Terrapin Point saw sister Deanna and called for her to swim to them. She swam and swam and – just 20 feet from the edge of the falls – they pulled her out of the river’s grasp. “But I have a brother, somebody’s got to help him.” The rescuers sadly replied, “You need to say a prayer for him.”
Later that day in the hospital, Deanna was to learn that their friend Jim Honeycutt had gone over the falls and perished. His mangled body was recovered the next day.
And what about her brother? Little Roger Woodward did not escape the falls either. He went over them, wearing nothing but a swim suit and a life preserver. But at the bottom of the falls a passenger aboard the Maid of the Mist spotted the small boy struggling in the water. They hauled him aboard and rushed him to the hospital for minor cuts and a concussion. But he had survived without any serious injury! And he was suddenly hailed as the boy who conquered the Niagara Falls.
Thirty years later, Roger and Deanna visited Niagara Falls. Deanna met the two men who saved her from going over the falls. Later Roger spoke in church and said, “What happened to me that day was a miracle. It was not luck or Mother Nature. It was the Spirit of the Living God who preserved me through those waters.”
The Scripture says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of God.” (Hebrews 10:31). It’s far worse than falling into the fury of the churning Niagara Falls.
But if that roaring monster can be forgiving, can’t God be infinitely more merciful to all who cry out to Him for help? God is certainly all powerful. Yet He’s also all-loving and will abundantly pour out His mercy and grace upon us who cry out to Him for help.
PRAYER: Dear Father in Heaven, I acknowledge You as the all-powerful God of the universe, but I also believe in Your love for me. Please, dear Father, save me for Christ’s sake I pray. Forgive all my sins, redeem my life, and make me an instrument of Your peace and blessing to others. Amen.