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High-Wire Act:

N.Y. Linemen String Cable for Daredevil’s Walk Over Niagara Falls


June 15, 2012


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When it comes to installing and maintaining high-energy power lines, Dan Hill is a seasoned vet. But while the Syracuse, N.Y., Local 1249 journeyman lineman’s handiwork typically helps channel power to homes and businesses in the central and western parts of the state, his newest gig significantly raises the “wow” factor of risky line work.


Tuesday, June 12, Hill and his co-workers with Rochester-based signatory contractor O’Connell Electric began stringing more than a third of a mile of wire across Niagara Falls in preparation of one of the area’s biggest events in years. Famed daredevil Nik Wallenda will attempt to walk 1,800 feet across the cable from Horseshoe Falls on the U.S. side to safe ground on the Canadian side at 10:30 p.m.  on Friday, June 15th.

“It’s amazing,” Hill said:

We’ve never had a job like this … It’s like a puzzle to get everything together. We’ll do our part, and it’s up to Nik to do the rest.

Many thrill-seekers familiar with Wallenda’s goal consider this something of a brass ring in the world of wire walking. While crossing the falls via tightrope has been successfully done many times over the past century, Wallenda’s walk is a first of a kind. The seventh-generation circus performer will step out on a two-inch-thick cable 200 feet in the air over the misty, churning whitewater of the falls, instead of taking the oft-attempted route near the relatively safer gorge area. photo placeholder

Fortunately for Wallenda – who has lost several family members to similar feats of fancy – IBEW members will be on hand to ensure his safety.

The performer will be tethered to the sturdy cable by a lifeline to prevent what could otherwise be a fatal fall. In the unlikely event that he takes a spill, IBEW members will be in specialized retrieval devices to help. Said Hill:

I might even be the guy in the rescue basket in case something happens. We’re all drawing straws for that – everyone wants it.

Just stringing the cable is a high-wire act in and of itself. The sheer heft of the seven-ton line means that even a helicopter can’t shoulder the weight to carry it across the falls. So stringing the wire occurs in several phases. First, a chopper flies a smaller high-tension wire across the gorge, then workers on opposite sides secure the line.

Next, the heavier cable gets spooled across the falls by IBEW members, in a somewhat similar way to stringing a utility line. The entire apparatus will be sutured to bedrock by heavy-duty bolts hundreds of yards from the brink of the falls. Following nearly a year of intricate preparations by the core group of about 10 Local 1249 members manning the project, the task of setting up the cable that Wallenda will use takes about three days.

As a dress rehearsal in May, Local 1249 members ran a lower-altitude line at the nearby Seneca Niagara Casino. Wallenda used the smaller set-up to train for Friday night’s event.

Local 1249 Business Manager Bill Boire helped facilitate the early discussions between Wallenda and O’Connell Electric last year. Event planners chose the signatory contractor based on its solid reputation of stringing high-tension power lines, some for many miles.

“Safety takes on a new meaning in a job like this, and O’Connell has plenty of experience connecting transmission lines perfectly,” Boire said:

We’re all very proud, and I feel absolutely confident that everybody will do a solid job. It’s a huge endeavor. People are going to look at this and say, ‘Wow, the IBEW members did this.’

Wallenda’s feat has skyrocketed tourism in and around Niagara Falls this week. Four thousand advance tickets to the event were given out to eager spectators, and planners expect as many as 150,000 people to flock to area hotels, restaurants and other areas, boosting the local economy.

Wallenda’s walk is sponsored largely by ABC, which will be broadcasting the spectacle starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time. The local ABC affiliate will also provide video links to the large televisions installed at the venue for onlookers who are further away from the action.

Click here to read more about the IBEW effort and see video about Nik Wallenda’s walk and his circus-performing family members, The Flying Wallendas.


Photo of Niagara Falls used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Kevin Timothy.