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Nik Wallenda recently walked across the Grand Canyon last Sunday on the 23rd of June, and into the record books once again. But what you didn’t see was all the behind-the-scenes work that went on by O’Connell Electric and its IBEW workforce to make sure that Nik’s wire was safely tethered to the earth while he wasn’t.

Tension has been on the mind of Nik Wallenda his entire life. And this record-setting walk across the Grand Canyon was no different.

The Super Bowl of stunts provided an enormous amount of hype and a media circus.

No one had ever attempted to tight-rope cross the Grand Canyon, much less on a two-inch in diameter cable, without a safety net or tether, on live television, in front of a live worldwide audience, watching in more than 178 countries.

Roughly 13 million people tuned in, and more than 1.3 million total tweets were sent with the hashtag #skywire as the drama unfolded.

Before the walk, Nik’s experience, training and supreme confidence combined to ease his tension as he got up on the wire.

Tension was also on minds of this crew of linemen from IBEW Local 1249 in Rochester, New York, because they played perhaps the biggest role of Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda, short of tight roping across the canyon themselves.

Their experience, training and supreme confidence would combine to increase the tension of the wire itself.

Remember, they’ve done this all before… a year and one week ago, this same crew was responsible for stringing the cable for Nik’s successful walk across Niagara Falls, and they’d be called on once again to safely secure his cable this time around.

No cable, no walk.

Faulty rigging, fall off the wire.

It was a life and death situation.

The first question the crew had to answer was what could be different, from a location standpoint, this time? Almost everything, as it turned out.

While the Grand Canyon was formed by rushing water over millions of years, today the Colorado River isn’t flowing at near the force of the Niagara River. One look at the falls and you’ll agree.

Niagara has its own microclimate of swirling mists, high humidity and slippery rope. This time, Nik might as well have been on the surface of the moon. Hot and dry, low humidity and dusty rope.

And on both sides of Horseshoe Falls, there was land. A place where massive rigging equipment, pullers, bucket trucks and more could park and be secured.

This time, Nik told the crew early on they wouldn’t have that luxury.

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric

“So then he comes back and says the next thing is, we’re on an island. I said, ‘Excuse me?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, we are going to be on an island, one end of it. And the other end, you get to it with your vehicles. Can you still do it?’ Yeah, we could try to figure something out. So I think it was in January that we really started getting serious and coming up with a game plan.”

That plan included the use of a helicopter to transport half the crew and only enough equipment and tools they could carry to the island. Point A.

While the other half remained at what would be the finish line. Point B, with the crane and all the heavy duty pullers and tensioners.

The crew, separated by a part of the canyon called Hell Hole Bend, here is 1,500 feet deep. That’s as tall as the Empire State Building. And it’s 1,400 feet across at this point – that’s like stretching 4 football fields end to end.

Certainly breathtaking, but you wouldn’t think impossible for a helicopter to get across. But some things, in this business, are simply out of your control.

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric

“Helicopter flying has been a challenge for the wind. A very difficult challenge, really. We had one day where they shut right down and didn’t even fly.”

So, when the wind made crossing the canyon possible again, the crew was flown over and got to work. Because they’re highly trained, prepared and had experience from the Niagara walk, catching up and getting back on schedule was no problem.

To get the job done, both sets of crews would need to be dangerously close to the edge – but they never had safety far from their minds.

Tom Parkes, O’Connell Electric

“They’re all tethered off here when they are within 15 feet of the edge there. And then we have our daily tailboards with these guys, we have more than daily tailboards every time we have something that changes up we do another tailboard, discussing with the group what’s happening here. Plus, it helps we brought out the same crew from Niagara Falls, the guys are all familiar with it there, so that was a big plus for us to, to be able to do that.”

The first task on the island was to position a 6-foot-tall wooden paddle block pyramid and align it with an identical one on the mainland side.

These would be used to keep the tightrope off the ground and off the cliff’s edge, giving Nik added stability during the walk.

And because the rope was off the ground, the engineers could get an accurate load measurement when the cable was pulled tight – fundamental to the safety of the walk.

Weighing in at more than seven and a half pounds per foot, the cable was too heavy to be flown across the canyon, so a lighter, yellow synthetic rope, was flown over to the island first, fed up and over the paddle blocks through a pulley system by hand and flown back, creating a loop.

The heavy tight rope, made of manufactured Bethlehem steel, was then attached to the synthetic rope, and the cable pull began.

The end of the yellow rope was pulled in by a machine, while at the same time letting more line out over the canyon’s edge, taking the attached tight rope with it.

And once it reached the other side, the work could really begin.

Eric Jensen, Lineman, IBEW Local 1249

“We’re going to hook these two Morgan pocketbook grips down here onto the cable. After we get those torqued down, we will then back into those grips, which will pull this yoke plate up, and we will unhook our synthetic rope from the 2-inch wire rope and hook back into the other existing slings on the Morgan grips. Then everything will be back up to a light tension.”

The anchors, more than 150 feet deep in the rocky earth, and reinforced with concrete, are more than strong enough to hold a man – and then some.

Randy Fletcher, Foreman, O’Connell Electric

“Once it’s in the anchors, everything’s good. Right now, he’s not too safe to get out there but when we get done pinning this down he could drive the truck across, maybe.”

A simplistic explanation of how Randy, his team and their machinery made sure the rope was tight was like a game of tug of war. A 1,400-foot tug of war with a 20,000-pound rope.

Using a series of really big, extremely strong, metal hands or “pocketbook grips,” they grabbed the wire on both sides and pulled it tight until it reached the engineer’s exacting specifications.

For an added measure of stability, and because the wind was supposed to be briskly present during the actual live walk (which it was) – the crew loaded up in metal hanging baskets – and rode off the cliff’s edge and hung a series of counter balance bars of varying lengths, roughly 60 feet apart, spanning the length of the wire.

So as the O’Connell Electric crew begins to safely attach the last of the pendulums to the already-secured wire on both sides of the canyon, the last thing, really, here is for Nik to walk.

And he did, into the record books for an 8th time, kissing the ground upon landing.

A successful walk, thanks in part to the expertise of the NECA-IBEW team, whose work isn’t over here. The clean-up started right after the walk, and now they’re onto the next job – with a pretty good little resume builder to add to their list.

Follow us on Facebook, and join the conversation on Twitter. That’s all for this edition, for our entire crew, so long from the Grand Canyon.