Like many people, I’m fascinated with people who have plunged over Niagara Falls and lived to tell about it. One of the most unbelievable stories in Niagara Falls happened on July 9th, 1960. 7 year-old Roger Woodward and his sister, 17 year-old Deanne Woodward from Niagara Falls, New York were out in a small boat with a family friend, 40 year-old James Honeycutt.
Approximately 1-mile upstream from the Horseshoe Falls, Honeycutt turned his boat in the opposite direction of the falls when the 7.5H.P. Engine on his 14-foot aluminum boat malfunctioned and quit running. Realizing the grave danger he was now in, Honeycutt frantically paddled the boat and ordered the 2 kids to put on their life preservers. The current was too strong for Mr. Honeycutt, and the boat eventually capsized when strong waves hit the boat.
Deanne was separated from Honeycutt and Roger and was swept underwater by a wave. Upon re-emerging, she saw two men on the shore and frantically began to swim towards the men only meters away from the edge of the falls. She exerted all her energy and eventually one man was able to grab her by the fingers. He called the other man over to help, and Deanne was rescued from her impending fate.
Honeycutt was holding on to Roger as they approached the brink of the falls. They were separated shortly before going over the falls. Wearing nothing but his swim trunks and a life preserver, 7 year-old Roger miraculously survived the 170 ft. plunge over the falls and was rescued out of the water by the Maid of the Mist. Honeycutt wasn’t as lucky. While trying to save their lives, Honeycutt didn’t have time to put on his life preserver. He was battered from the plunge and drowned in the 180 foot deep water at the base of the falls.
On the thirtieth anniversary of the accident, Roger spoke at a church in Niagara Falls Ontario. Here is an excerpt:
“For me there was initially pure panic, I was scared to death. I can remember going through the rapids and being thrown against the rocks and being bounced around like a toy in the water and being beaten up pretty badly. My panic very quickly shifted to anger and the anger was from seeing people running frantically up and down the shoreline and wondering why they wouldn’t come out and rescue me.”
He then said that after fear and anger came peace. “There was a time I thought I was going to die and my seven years of life literally passed before me and I started thinking what my parents would do with my dog and my toys and had really given up at that point and felt I was going to die that afternoon.”
This is an amazing story to me and it’s hard to imagine the feeling of helplessness they must have felt while approaching the brink of the falls. (Also see the story of Kirk Jones, who survived a fall over Niagara Falls without a life preserver).