Niagara Falls holds breath for tightrope walk

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 16 2012 04:24 AM | Updated as of Jun 16 2012 12:24 PM

Niagara Falls - Spectators at Niagara Falls held their breath Friday as famed tightrope walker Nik Wallenda prepared to battle winds, spray and birds on the first walk over the falls for more than a century.

Fourteen other daredevils attempted and occasionally succeeded in the 19th century before the stunt was banned. However, they were in a much calmer section of the biggest waterfall in North America, whereas Wallenda, 33, will be on a cable suspended 196 feet (60 meters) up over a never-before-traversed rim of the cascade.

On the flip side, Wallenda is in no danger of dying, as he'll be wearing a safety harness that attaches him to the wire, something he hasn't done before. The harness was insisted on by ABC television, which is sponsoring the live-broadcast event.

Wallenda, the seventh generation in the "Flying Wallendas" family of circus artists, was relaxed ahead of the 10:00 pm (0200 GMT) feat, having had a good night's sleep and a light dinner on Thursday.

"We'll be making history. There is no turning back," he said. "It's what I do since I was two years old. It's my job. It's very natural to me."

Throughout the 1,800 foot (550 meters) walk, battered by winds and mist from the roaring water, Wallenda says he plans to "remain focused."

In addition to the billion people Wallenda estimates will watch the stunt from around the world -- it will show on television with a five second delay -- thousands were massing on the American and Canadian sides of the falls, which will be lit up.

Wallenda defended the harness, saying that despite the safety measure "it will still be an amazing spectacle" and it doesn't "really take away from the event."

"There's no question that I cannot fall down into that gorge. Now, it doesn't keep me on the wire in any way, it keeps me safe from dying," he said. "I still have to balance. I still have to stay on top of that wire."

Throughout the 40 minute walk, his children, aged 9, 11 and 14, will be watching, he added.

For some tourists, there's a lingering hope that Wallenda will raise the ante and emulate the eccentric characters of the past, who cooked on the wire, or went blindfolded, or on bicycle.

Others wonder if he'll remove the safety harness.

"I bet he's going to do it," local historian Paul Gromosiak said.

Safety teams are ready for any accident. If Wallenda slips, the harness will save him, and he can climb up again. If he loses his balancing pole, however, he'll have to be rescued.

He says the safety harness is agreed to and won't come off.

"I'm a man of my word and if I say I'll do something and agree to it," he said. "The only way that it would come off would be if it was a security or safety issue."