Nik Wallenda walks wire across Niagara Falls

AP

NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario (AP) — Daredevil Nik Wallenda began his attempt Friday night to become the first person to walk on a tightrope 1,800 feet across the mist-fogged brink of roaring Niagara Falls.

The seventh-generation member of the famed Flying Wallendas had long dreamed of pulling off the stunt, never before attempted. Other daredevils have wire-walked over the Niagara River but farther downstream and not since 1896.

Nik Wallenda walks wire across Niagara Falls

AP

An estimated crowd of 125,000 people on the Canadian side and 4,000 on the American side watched Wallenda’s stunt in person.

ABC televised the walk and insisted Wallenda use a tether to keep him from falling in the river. Wallenda said he agreed because he wasn’t willing to lose the chance and needed ABC’s sponsorship to help offset some of the $1.3 million cost of the spectacle.

The Wallendas trace their roots to 1780 Austria-Hungary, when ancestors traveled as a band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers and trapeze artists. The clan has been touched by tragedy, notably in 1978 when patriarch Karl Wallenda, Nik’s great-grandfather, fell to his death during a stunt in Puerto Rico.

About a dozen other tightrope artists have crossed the Niagara Gorge downstream, dating to Jean Francois Gravelet, aka The Great Blondin, in 1859. But no one had walked directly over the falls, and authorities hadn’t allowed any tightrope acts in the area since 1896. It took Wallenda two years to persuade U.S. and Canadian authorities to allow it, and many civic leaders hoped to use the publicity to jumpstart the region’s struggling economy, particularly on the U.S. side of the falls.

ABC televised the walk and insisted Wallenda use a tether to keep him from falling in the river. Wallenda said he agreed because he wasn’t willing to lose the chance and needed ABC’s sponsorship to help offset some of the $1.3 million cost of the spectacle.

Nik Wallenda walks wire across Niagara Falls

AP

A festive crowd gathered on both sides of the border to watch Wallenda on Friday, spreading blankets and setting up folding chairs under picture-perfect blue skies and summer-like temperatures.