On October 1, 1995, a 39-year-old stunt man trying to draw attention to the plight of the homeless rode a Jet Ski over Niagara Falls and plunged to his death.
Around 12:30pm Robert Overacker of Ventura County, California launched in the Niagara River about 90 meters upstream from the massive Horseshoe Falls. The words “Save the Homeless” were printed on the side of the jet ski.
Constable Richard Daniels of the Niagara Parks Police said he spotted Overacker (known as Firecracker to his friends) in the water and ran along the edge of the river, pleading with the daredevil to turn back. Overacker simply called back, “I don’t think so” and kept going.
The viewing platforms at the Falls were packed with tourists who watched in horror as Overacker drove to the brink of the falls, stood up, threw his arms in the air and jumped off just before the jet ski toppled over the edge.
This person visiting from Germany managed to video tape the shocking stunt.
Overacker had apparently planned the stunt for seven years but was dissuaded twice by friends. He was hoping to raise awareness for the homeless.
Overracker was wearing a parachute and a homemade device that included a rocket to lift him from the jet ski so he would have enough time to open the parachute. The contraption failed and the parachute did not fully open in time. He plunged 51 meters to his death.
His body was pulled from the turbulent waters of the lower Niagara River by workers from the Maid of the Mist. Overacker was pronounced dead on arrival at Greater Niagara General Hospital.
Overacker’s brother and friend who were on scene to take pictures of the failed stunt were in shock after his death. They were questioned by police for three hours and then released. The jet ski is now on display at the Evil Knievel Daredevil Museum in Niagara Falls.
Since 1900, at least six people have died in stunt attempts to go over Niagara Falls, while at least 12 people have survived the plunge. About three months before Overacker died a couple successfully went over the Falls in a barrel.
Legendary stuntman Steve Trotter and his girlfriend Lori Martin went over Niagara Falls in a barrel made of two heater tanks welded together, on June 18, 1995, surviving the 51 metre plunge with only minor injuries.
The barrel was covered with slogans that included ‘Jay Leno Rules,’ as well as an MTV and CNN logo. Canadian police arrested 32-year-old Trotter and 28-year-old Martin after the barrel landed on the Canadian side of the falls.
Trotter, who is the stuff of legends in the stunt community also made a solo trip over the Falls in a barrel in 1985.
In that case he had the NBC logo as well as “Johnny Carson” written on the side of the barrel which earned him a trip to visit the Tonight Show.
The Florida bartender has also done guerilla pendulum-swing bungee jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge, The George Washington Bridge and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. In the last case, the cable broke and Trotter, along with several other participants, received multiple broken bones and other injuries.
For more stories from the 1990s, make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at http://www.curiouscast.ca