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Man survives unprotected trip over falls; Is called only fourth ever to do so; officials say he's 'very lucky'

A man who went over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls on Monday morning has become the fourth person to survive such a plunge without any protective device, according to one local historian.

The approximately 40-year-old man, whose name has not been released, suffered life-threatening injuries, according to the Niagara Parks Police Service.

But other officials later said he was expected to survive his injuries, which included a collapsed lung, a severe chest injury and numerous gashes.

Authorities had one simple explanation why the man survived, before he was pulled to safety during an almost two-hour rescue involving multiple emergency agencies on the Canadian side.

"He was very lucky," said Dan Orescanin, platoon chief of the Niagara Falls, Ont., Fire Department. "One thing that helped get him to shore -- he just happened to come down the river into an eddy, and that enabled him to get out. If he had been in the main current, he wouldn't have survived."

The man's injuries showed the evidence of the rocks he struck on the way down, as he suffered gashes to his head and shoulder, a flail chest and collapsed lung.

A flail chest occurs when several ribs are broken in multiple places, preventing the chest wall from expanding enough to allow full inflation of the lungs.

"By the time we got to him, he was hypothermic," Orescanin said. "He was shaking like a leaf."

Authorities said the man willingly jumped into the water above the falls, but they did not say whether they believe it was a suicide attempt or a stunt.

But he defied the odds by surviving both the plunge and the powerful river currents.

"Oh, No. 4," said historian and author Paul Gromosiak, of the Town of Niagara, when told about the news Monday. "This would be the fourth person to go over the falls unprotected."

The three previous survivors were a 30-year-old western Ontario man who attempted suicide in 2009; U.S. resident Kirk Jones, who was accused of staging a stunt in 2003; and then-7-year-old Roger Woodward, who survived an accidental 1960 plunge wearing a life vest after the boat he was on capsized in the upper Niagara River.

Gromosiak said Niagara Falls attracts about one or two suicide attempts per week, including people who are rescued in the water above the falls.

"There are odds that you will survive, but they're so minuscule that it's impossible to comprehend," he said. "Out of the thousands who have come here to commit suicide over the years, we have two who did survive."

While authorities still haven't pinpointed a motive, if the plunge indeed was a suicide attempt, no charges are expected to be filed. Authorities previously have said that an attempted suicide does not violate Ontario law.

The incident began at about 10:20 a.m. Monday, when witnesses told the Niagara Parks Police Service that they saw a man climb over a retaining wall 20 to 30 feet above the falls and then jump into the water.

Seconds later, he surfaced in the lower Niagara River basin adjacent to the Journey Behind the Falls observation platform, police reported.

A Niagara Parks Police officer located the man along the rocky Ontario shoreline after he collapsed in water up to his waist, that agency stated in a news release.

Emergency workers from the Niagara Falls Fire Department, the Niagara Regional Police Service and Niagara Emergency Medical Services all participated in the rescue effort.

Seven firefighters rappelled down to the shoreline, where the man was lifted to safety in a basket by an aerial fire truck at 12:16 p.m.

He was taken to an air ambulance and flown to a Hamilton-area hospital; no further word was available about his condition.

Niagara Parks Police are continuing to investigate.

email: gwarner@buffnews.com