The fun ended for six people horsing around on personal water craft in the dangerous waters of the lower Niagara River on Monday night when a Canadian man was seriously injured.
"We've heard from witnesses that they were doing flips and one [water craft] hit another," State Parks Police Lt. Patrick Moriarty said.
The mishap underlined the potential dangers of the lower river -- particularly Devil's Hole, where it occurred.
By law, personal water craft are allowed on the river, although some of the Monday night rescuers wondered Tuesday why people would buzz around a spot that contains a treacherous whirlpool, much less engage in horseplay there.
"You can't regulate common sense," concluded Niagara Falls Fire Chief William D. MacKay.
The Falls fire team worked with State Parks police to bring the injured man, Michael P. Janssen, 35, of Burlington, Ont., up more than 400 steps from the base of the Niagara Gorge at Devil's Hole State Park. The incident occurred at about 8:30 p.m. Janssen remained in serious condition Tuesday in Erie County Medical Center, Buffalo, with a fractured skull and lacerations.
Parks Police Chief Vincent S. Iacovitti, whose agency is leading the crash investigation, said as far as he knows there are no prohibitions against personal water craft on the lower Niagara River. He said he has "often questioned that."
Iacovitti also said Canadian officials have told him no boats on the Ontario side of the river are allowed past the Sir Adam Beck power plant intakes, about a mile north of Devil's Hole, and that the personal water craft went past that point on the American side of the river.
"[The river] is pretty turbulent, and it gets worse as you go up the river," Iacovitti said. "That's where all the action occurred."
The six people on personal water craft launched from Queenston, Ont., State Parks police said. Four were Canadian, one had a Florida water craft registration and another vessel was registered in New Jersey.
State Parks police and other agencies have conducted a number of gorge rescue operations over the years, and the parks police have a rappeling team and a team that can operate in swift water.
Iacovitti said not all gorge rescues follow irresponsible behavior. "People are inquisitive and the gorge is beautiful," he said. "Some people just walk off the trail. It's not always intentional. They walk off the path and find they can't get back."
He suggested that people who are unfamiliar with the gorge go on guided tours.
MacKay said Falls firefighters and parks police brought Janssen up the Vanderbilt steps on the American side of the gorge Monday night.
"It was very labor-intensive," MacKay said. "It's very steep and uneven. The steps are buckled and in disrepair. We faced problems of accessing the patient, the approaching darkness, the heat and the critical injuries."