Dean Fokas climbed 80 feet above the dodge-'em cars at Fantasy Island Amusement Park Monday, took his place on a swaying, foot-square diving platform and yelled to the crowd below, "This dive's for you, Mike."
A blip later, Fokas hit the speed limit on the nearby Niagara Thruway as he broke the surface of the 10-foot-deep pool. After a few anxious moments, he came up safe and sound from the first high dive he has made since a fellow diver broke his spine in a dive Saturday.
"I was on the board with him when it happened," Fokas said of Michael Murach, a former collegiate diving star from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. "When he hit, we made eye contact."
Murach, 23, of Austin, Minn., remains in serious condition in Erie County Medical Center following surgery Monday. Doctors are still assessing how much mobility, if any, Murach will have.
His slip came not in the crowd-pleasing but dangerous tower dive, a duty he was sharing with Fokas, but during a routine stunt in a comedy skit by the five divers of the Great American Diving Team at Fantasy Island.
"Every water show in the country does it," said Bob Maxwell, vice president of Maxwell Associates of Miami, the company that supplies divers for Fantasy Island and 30 other diving shows here and in Europe.
The stunt, called a "hang around," called for Fokas to push Murach toward the end of the 3-meter spring- board, where Murach would drop to his knees and hang on to edge of the board.
Murach, a champion 3-meter platform diver at Eau Claire, performed the stunt for Maxwell Associate shows last year at Lake George and the year before at San Diego.
But Saturday, Murach somehow lost his balance, and in trying to correct himself he slipped off the board and fell 20 feet to the pool below. His head hit the pool's concrete edge as the audience suddenly realized this was no longer part of a comedy routine.
Murach's fellow team members said in an interview after Monday's show that all divers carry the fear of what can happen every time they plunge into a pool.
But Murach's was the first serious injury they had witnessed.
It was also the worst injury Maxwell Associates has had since the company started recruiting former college divers for such shows nearly three decades ago. The firm employs more than 200 divers, who, according to the company, make $400 to $800 a week. This is their eighth season at Fantasy Island.
Maxwell, a former professional diver himself, said his company is still trying to determine what went wrong.
"It's horrible," he said of Murach's fall. "In 30-some-odd years, we've had accidents -- a broken ankle here, a broken wrist there, some stitches -- but nothing of this import."
Murach's team members all feel they could have done something to help.
Fokas, 29, a former U.S. Marine Corps diver from Lancaster, Pa., who has been a Maxwell diver for eight years, said he always will second-guess his role in the stunt.
Sherry Johnson, 22, a former Niagara University diver from Lockport, said she feels guilty because she should have been on the board instead of Murach.
Saturday was her sister's graduation, so Ms. Johnson took the day off, watching the comedy routine from the stands with Murach's girlfriend when he fell off the board.
"I should have been on that board doing the comedy," she said. "For the rest of the day, I just kept seeing him hit in slow motion like it was a videotape."
Kim Rebella, 21, and Michelle Michael, 20, who were standing only a few feet feet away from Murach when he fell, were the closest to Murach. He recruited them from the Eau Claire diving team.
"The best summer of my life has become the worst summer," Ms. Rebella said.
"I just wish I could forget it," Ms. Michael added.
Maxwell Associates flew in two new divers Sunday to help, but each of Murach's teammates felt the need to dive again as soon as possible after the fall.
"If I hadn't stepped on that diving board (Sunday), I wouldn't ever have done it again," Ms. Johnson said.
Fokas was so shaken he decided to take a few days off, but he jumped out of the audience Monday to do his high dive.
"We're professionals; we go out there with a smile and entertain the people," Ms. Johnson said. "But afterward, we go in the back and bawl our heads off."