Rate this video:
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars

Nik Wallenda Wire Walk Strung by NECA/IBEW Team

Media hype? Check.

A world-wide television audience? Check.

One hundred thousand onlookers, and a party atmosphere? Check.

All things that came together for daredevil Nik Wallenda’s high-wire walk across Niagara Falls.

But before any death-defying act could take place in front of a world-wide audience holding its collective breath, there was the none-too-small matter of getting a wire strung across the divide between the United States and Canada in the first place.

No wire, no walk. And there would be no walk without the skill and troubleshooting efforts of NECA contractor O’Connell Electric and a crew of linemen from IBEW Local 1249 from Syracuse.

This team was charged with the task of doing something that had never been done before: suspending and stabilizing a 2-inch diameter wire across the mouth and heavy mist and treacherous winds of Horseshoe Falls. Add to the mix that this specially designed wire weight 7.5 pounds per foot. There’s no best practice manual for crews to refer to when it comes to getting this job done.

By the time the crews arrived on scene, early in the week preceding the Friday night walk, engineering and installation plans to accomplish Wallenda’s dream already had been more than 10 months in the making. And to be honest, it was a job that took some getting used to.

Tom Parkes, Chief Operating Officer, O’Connell Electric Company
“We got a call from Nik there at the end of the month, and at first, I’ll be honest, I thought it was kind of a joke.”

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric Co., IBEW Local 1249
“They said, ‘This must be a joke.’ You know, who’s going to ever let someone walk across Niagara Falls on a rope?”

Dennis Morgan, General Foreman, O’Connell Electric Company, IBEW Local 1249
“Randy Fletcher called me up and told me about it, and I thought it was crazy.”

After the “you’ve got to be kidding me,” emotion subsided, it became clear that Wallenda’s team, already two years into the permitting process, was serious about staging an unforgettable event.

Tom Parkes, Chief Operating Officer, O’Connell Electric Company
“We met Nik up here in January, I believe it was, and Nik wasn’t happy with where they had him crossing the gorge down further, coming across there. Nik wasn’t happy with that because it wasn’t dangerous enough. Everything we had done up until January was planned and based on that location down there. We had our equipment planned and we had to totally throw out everything we did down there and start over up here. We had to get some different equipment, new plans, and go from there.”

Since the walk began in one country and ended in another, there had to be simultaneous setups, but each with its own set of critical elements. It was a case where the left hand, or side of the river, had to know exactly what the right hand, or side, was doing.

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric Co., IBEW Local 1249
“His life was in our hands. And it probably wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the training we had received through our apprenticeship and through the IBEW contractors and NECA. They helped us, they trained us so we could have the knowledge to be able to pursue this and go the right route and get the right equipment here to do the job properly.”

Since the specially designed wire was way too heavy for a helicopter to simply lift it across the divide, it was decided that the first step should be a chopper to take a rope from the American side to the Canadian side. Once across, the rope would be attached to the enormous spool and then pulled by machinery back to the Canadian side. But as the yellow rope was carefully being fed to the helicopter, bucking the turbulent air over the falls, a snag developed in the rope, and the process came to a sudden stop.

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric Co., IBEW Local 1249
“It just got away from us a little bit, created a loop. The loop got caught and we had a little snag in the rope, so we didn’t want that snag to go out and cause an issue a little later. So what we did is stop the pull. Fortunately the helicopter was far enough over on the American side where they could land it. It was a little shorter than we wanted it, but they could still land it, and we were able to catch the rope on this side, cut it and put an I-splice in it, and were just going to make it a little shorter.”

Once Local 1249 crews had enough rope to begin the wire pull, the process began. Soon, though, another curve ball.

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric Co., IBEW Local 1249
“We started up again, and the tensions that we were seeing come back across lifted the back of the tensioner off the ground about 2 feet.”

At this point, some observers began to wonder if the event, with all its millions of dollars of planning and world-wide promotion, would happen at all.

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric Co., IBEW Local 1249
“So we did a little ad-libbing there, and we applied our outriggers on our trucks onto there to keep that down.”

After the tensioner holding the wire was safely anchored to Mother Earth on the American side, and the cranes suspending the wire was readjusted to reduce tension, the wire pull resumed. And at 3:30 in the morning, Wallenda’s specially made, expensive and heavy wire made it over to the bank on the Canadian side. About six hours after that, it was safely and successfully pinned down on Canadian soil.

Tom Parkes, Chief Operating Officer, O’Connell Electric Company
“It was touch and go, once we were halfway out on the gorge, I was a little nervous that we were going to get this thing across there, and once we re-rigged it and everybody got it thought through. We’ve got a great crew up here and I couldn’t say enough about these guys. We all worked through the situation. It might have taken a few extra hours, but it was all dealt with and it was all done safely.”

Nik Wallenda, Tightrope Walker, “The Flying Wallendas”
“These are the guys that string cables between canyons all day long. They can do it in their sleep. So why would we not reach out to the IBEW and NECA, and get their opinion of who we should use in the area? It was very important to us that we used a local company.”
With the wire across, the work was still not done. Wallenda’s precarious path still had to be stabilized somehow to minimize it bouncing and rolling. The crew went out on the wire in baskets to hang strategically placed pipes that would act as pendulums to weigh down the wire. Local 1249 linemen got to get a taste of what Nik’s journey across the falls would feel like.

Justin Desantis, IBEW Local 1249
“Just picture being sprayed by a fire hose, pretty much. You’re all over with the wind, and the mist, you could taste it. It was almost that thick.”

Ryan Crandall, IBEW Local 1249
“It was just an amazing feeling, being able to pull this wire across and go out in that basket. I definitely have a newfound respect for that man for walking across.”

Steven Parkes, IBEW Local 1249
“We were fighting for the chance to go out. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to go out and have a different view of the falls and go over the top of it. Not too many people have the chance to do that.”

With the wire work done and safety checks made, the following night was show time.

Nik Wallenda, Tightrope Walker, “The Flying Wallendas”
“You know, the first thought came to me when I was about six years old, my parents were performing in Buffalo, New York, and they brought me and my sister down to see the falls. And I remember looking across and thinking how cool it would be to walk a wire across Niagara Falls. It sounds strange, but 200 years and seven generations, it’s sort of in the blood.”

Wallenda’s journey would take him 2 stories above Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls.

Nik Wallenda, Tightrope Walker, “The Flying Wallendas”
“I get in the zone. I get in the zone and I get focused on what I’m doing. And that’s it. All my attention Is focused right on that wire and nothing else. Everything else pretty much zones out and it’s just me and that wire in our own world.”

With 700,000 gallons of water tumbling over the falls every second, and falling at 70 miles an hour, the air above the river created its own micro weather system of mist, rain and swirling heavy winds.

Nik Wallenda, Tightrope Walker, “The Flying Wallendas”
“Fear does not come into play, just like IBEW workers. When they’re out stringing power lines and they’re way up in the air and they’re in those carts, I doubt any of them are fearful either. It comes with time and experience. I’m sure if you asked any one of those guys, they’d say, ‘Yeah when I got us there, at first it was kind of scary.’ But you get accustomed to that thing. I’ve walked a wire since I was two years old, and because of that I I’m accustomed to it, but I respect it. Again, just like the guys. They respect their work, they respect that that line has got power running through it. It’s really about paying the roper respect to what I’m doing.”

Then, around 25 minutes after he started, Nik Wallenda went into the history books in front of a cheering crowd and a worldwide audience. With hugs from family and friends now replacing the fierce grip of wind and rain over Horseshoe Falls, the famous wirewalker exulted in his achievement.

Nik Wallenda, Tightrope Walker, “The Flying Wallendas”
“I can’t thank them enough. These are the guys that are helping make my dream come true. And also, I think it’s exciting for them. They’re a part of history. It’s clear that we’re making history here.”

And as tens of thousands of witnesses retreated into the night, there was one group that was staying behind.

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric Co., IBEW Local 1249
“We take it all back down, starting tonight.”

A lineman’s work is never done. That’ll do it for this edition of ElectricTV.