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Man faces charges after surviving Niagara Falls jump
( 2003-10-22 09:41) (Agencies)

Police said they would file charges against an American man who became the first person to survive a death-defying plunge over Niagara Falls without a safety device or life jacket.

Inspector Paul Forcier of the Niagara Parks Police Service said Kirk Jones, 40, from Michigan, would be charged with illegally performing a stunt -- an act that carries a maximum 10,000-dollar penalty.

Jones reportedly smiled as he floated by stunned tourists standing at the top of Niagara, in Canadian territory, before going over the 52.4-metre-high (173-foot-high) falls.

Having miraculously survived the drop in nothing more than his normal clothes, Jones swam to a rock at the bottom of the gorge, on the US side of the border, where he was found by emergency crews.

"This was an intentional act in our view, and we're basically investigating it as such," Forcier told reporters.

"It is not being treated as a suicide," Forcier said, adding that police were assessing a video taken of the incident, apparently by one of Jones' friends.

"He received non-life threatening injuries ... very minor injuries in fact," Forcier said.

Following his rescue, Jones was handcuffed and led away with a white towel over his head for psychiatric assessment at a local hospital.

Witnesses told local media of their amazement as they watched Jones head over the horseshoe-shaped falls near Table Rock just after midday on Monday.

"We thought we were witnessing a man's death," said Terry McMullen, a car parts salesman from Ohio, who watched with his wife, Brenda.

"He glided right by us on his back with his arms in the air as though he was taking a leisurely swim. He went over the falls without a sound," McMullen told the Buffalo News daily.

The only other person to survive the drop without a custom-built safety device was seven-year-old Roger Woodward in 1960, who fell out of a boat and over the falls.

However, Woodward had the slight advantage of wearing a life jacket which would have helped him escape the pull of the waterfall after the drop.

Since 1901, 13 people have taken the plunge over the falls in a container of some kind, including barrels and other cushioned contraptions. Three of them died in the attempt.

The dare-devil acts were banned in 1951 after Red Hill Jr. died while running the falls in a device he called "The Thing" -- actually a jumble of truck tyre inner tubes loosely lashed together with netting.

"It fell apart, and so did Red," Niagara Falls historian Paul Gromosiak told AFP.

Gromosiak, who described the odds against surviving the fall with no protection as "astronomical," said he believed Jones must have hit a "water cone" -- an inverted pyramid of collapsing water caused by compressed air forced below the surface at the bottom of the falls.

"That would have cushioned the fall. If he had just hit hard water, he would be dead," he said. "Obviously he was already ridiculously lucky not to hit a rock."

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