Fifty years since he survived the tumble over Niagara Falls

Great escape
Last Updated 17 July 2010, 15:58 IST

Not that he ever used them.

For sure, the 7-year-old miracle boy who tumbled over the brink after a boating accident is part of the colourful folklore of the Falls. His story is told in the same breath as the fame and fortune-seeking adventurers led by schoolteacher Annie Taylor’s 1901 barrel ride with her cat.

On the 50th anniversary of his 162-foot drop, Woodward still wants no part of that club.
Woodward and his family sought to resume normal life after he and his 17-year-old sister, Deanne Woodward, were rescued from the Niagara River after being tossed from family friend James Honeycutt’s 12-foot aluminum boat on July 9, 1960.

New Jersey tourists John Hayes and John Quattrochi pulled Deanne Woodward to shore just before the brink. Honeycutt was swept with Roger Woodward over the Horseshoe Falls and died.

“We were just two kids out with a family friend for a day on the water,” Woodward says now. “It turned tragic. A man lost his life, and quite literally by the grace of God we were thankful that my sister and I were saved.”

For 34 years, Woodward and his sister never talked about it, not even to each other. Their parents thought it best they move on.

Reporters call on anniversaries or when Niagara Falls is in the headlines, like in 2003 when a Michigan auto parts salesman survived an attempted suicide and in March 2009 when a suicidal Canadian man survived.

‘I can smell the water’
He marked the 50th anniversary by listening with his wife, Susan Woodward, to a rebroadcast of a radio special about the accident.

“To this day, every time I hear the story I can smell the water,” he said.

For Woodward, the worst part was the brutal ride through suffocating whitewater where he was tossed from Honeycutt’s boat after it struck something, became disabled and was pulled into the powerful rapids. “This water looks like it’s as big as a house with the waves and the rocks,” he says. “One minute you’re pulled underwater, you can’t breathe, you wonder if you’re ever going to breathe again. The next second you’re thrown up into the air and you come down and you’re glancing off of rocks as you’re going through the rapids.”

He doesn’t remember hitting bottom. He may have been protected from the rocks by what’s known as a water cone, a formation that bursts from the surface after water and air drop with such force.

It had to be that — or a miracle. “Miracle” was what the newspaper headlines declared over black-and-white photos of the blonde boy clinging to a life ring before being pulled onto a boat.

(Published 17 July 2010, 15:58 IST)

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