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Accident Description


But below Niagara falls, in the Niagara Gorge the river drops over 300 feet in seven miles - and over 200,000 cubic feet of water often booms and pounds, reverberating into the very core of the Earth. Moving at over 30 miles per hour in a gorge, at times 250 feet wide, the Niagara River creates the largest standing waves in North America.

On August 29th 1975 a thirty-seven foot long air inflated rubber and nylon raft belonging to Niagara Gorge River Trips Inc. (owned by George Butterfield of Toronto) carrying twenty-seven tourists and two pilots capsized in the Whirlpool Rapids throwing everyone into the churning white water. Three passengers died from drowning and twenty-six survived. The accident occurred during the 11th trial run of this raft tour through the Niagara River rapids. The raft had departed from the Maid of the Mist dock at the base of the Prospect Point Tower and was about two miles down river of a five mile route to Lewiston, New York.

Accident victims: The three dead persons were identified as: Julia Martinez, age 30 of Toronto; David Ross, age 37 of Toronto and Anthony Sawczyk, age 24 of Niagara Falls, New York. Three of the survivors were admitted to the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center with serious injuries. Each of the passengers had paid fee of $20 for this journey. The youngest passenger was 16 years old and the oldest was 52 years old. Four of the passengers were women. To further add to this tragedy, one man, piloting a 22 foot - 250 horsepower jet boat pilot died of a heart attack while attempting to recover this raft from the Whirlpool of the Niagara Gorge.

Previous 10 Trips Down the Niagara River: On May 23, 1972 the standing waves threw the two 35 foot (12 meter) nylon-rubber rafts high into the air. On July 26, 1972, during a trail run, six passengers were thrown into the rapids. They were able to be saved by the second raft only after they had been swept downstream into the Whirlpool. On August 5th 1972, during its maiden commercial voyage, a pontoon was torn away in the first rapid and one passenger was plunged into the rapids. On August 13th 1972, seven people riding through the Whirlpool Rapids were thrown overboard. Luckily no fatalities were reported. On the second August 13, 1972 trip, seven people were thrown overboard. The commercial Niagara Rapids trips were then discontinued and have never been resumed to this date.

Niagara Gorge Background: The New York State Department of Parks, by regulation, prohibits launching a boat from park property, which is the only feasible access from the US side to the rapids above the whirlpool. The old regulation provided for the issuance of permits and it was that regulation that boaters exploited to gain access in 1987. Subsequently, the regulation was modified to adopt an absolute boating prohibition above the whirlpool. American Whitewater was unsuccessful in their challenge to that regulation. There have been some efforts to secure legislation or a revised regulation that would permit limited access, but, to date, they have been unsuccessful.