The Electrical Worker online
August 2013

N.Y. Linemen Help Make Daredevil's
Jaw-⁠Dropping Grand Canyon Stunt a Success
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Anyone who ever wants to walk in famed daredevil Nik Wallenda's shoes might suddenly find themselves up in the air. Fifteen hundred feet up, that is.

If they do, they'll want to call the IBEW first.

"Nik said it was always one if his lifelong dreams to walk across the Grand Canyon," said Bill Boire, business manager of Syracuse, N.Y., Local 1249. Two years ago, Wallenda called Boire to talk about transmission wires. The seventh-generation acrobat and young member of the famous "Flying Wallendas" circus family was looking for a team to string a heavy cable across Niagara Falls in preparation for a record-breaking stunt.

"He knew the IBEW's reputation for safety," said Boire, who steered Wallenda toward several signatory contractors in the area. Wallenda soon got in touch with O'Connell Electric in the upstate town of Victor, forming a partnership that culminated in the acrobat's late-night wire walk across the misty falls in June 2012.

"Nik's always known that our members are very capable," Boire said. "We do transmission, sometimes with the same size wire. It's all in the rigging — that's what linemen do. With the right tension, and with a good anchor and puller, you can get anything across there."

So it made sense that the same team that made last year's Niagara walk possible could help Wallenda conquer his next obstacle.

But if Wallenda's Grand Canyon feat on June 23 was anything but easy, the setup was downright daunting. Stringing four football fields' worth of 20,000-pound wire is a hefty challenge by itself. Doing it across the canyon at an altitude higher than the Empire State Building — amidst whirling dust clouds and fickle wind — requires the kind of skill and precision from a team that's faced everything from massive storm damage to complicated transmission hookups.

"It was certainly difficult," said Local 1249 lineman Randy Fletcher, who served as foreman on the project. "It was hot, dry, windy, dusty — the terrain was tough."

Fletcher said one of the biggest challenges was the site itself. Wallenda had opted to start off on an "island" formation that was detached from the main canyon. Resembling a narrow block jutting more than a quarter-mile skyward, the island was reachable only by helicopter. The eight-member IBEW crew flew out to the site June 13, spending the days leading up to the event rigging cable on the island and on the more stable ground southward across the canyon's divide.

The team anchored the main rig 150 feet deep into the rock and earth, then reinforced it with concrete, putting the base structure in place. The cable itself was too bulky and heavy to simply be flown from one side to the other, so a system of feeder line, pulleys and towing mechanisms helped string the wire across and bring it to the proper tension. Finally, to safeguard against the wind that was forecast for the day of the walk, linemen rode out over the canyon in buckets to hang vertical counterbalance bars that helped weigh down the cable and give it greater stability.

"It felt good to have gotten it done and been a part of the event," Fletcher said. "It just shows that through our training, we can do anything that comes our way."

Known as "The King of the High Wire," Wallenda wowed the world with his walk across a yawning expanse of the Grand Canyon near Arizona's Little Colorado River Gorge on that taut two-inch-thick cable. Careful steps, prayer and laser-like concentration helped ferry him from the sheer façade of a remote rock formation on the canyon's northern side to a larger expanse 1,400 feet across on the south face. He used no net. Nor a safety harness. And millions of people watched with bated breath via a live TV and online broadcast in nearly 180 countries worldwide.

"Thank you Lord — thank you for calming that cable, God," the famed aerialist said more than midway through his walk, regaining composure after a surging gust of wind threatened disaster. Nine tense minutes later, Wallenda took a few final, nimble steps toward the end of the line. He leapt from the wire onto the rocky earth, kissed the ground and embraced his family to the sounds of applause.

Sponsored by The Discovery Channel, Wallenda's walk was a worldwide phenomenon, with 13 million live viewers. The event generated more than a million comments on Twitter under the hashtag "#Skywire."

For an up-close look at how the Local 1249 team pulled it off, watch ElectricTV's video "Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda: Rigging the Wire" at


On live TV, famed aerialist Nik Wallenda crosses a yawning expanse of the Grand Canyon on a two-inch-thick transmission line installed by Syracuse, N.Y., Local 1249 members.

Photo credit: Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Lwp Kommunikáció


Linemen from O'Connell Electric adjust a wire. 

Photo credit: Keith Meehan; RK5 Construction Marketing