Two days after he survived a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls in 2003, a bruised and sore Kirk Jones told the Niagara Falls Review he fully intended to kill himself that day.
But as he started floating towards the brink, the 40-year-old Michigan man found an “inner peace” as he stared up at a blue sky. Moments later, he was rescued from the lower river. At the time, he was just the second known person to ever survive a trip over the falls without a barrel or safety device.
Jones had a message for would-be copycats: “What I did that day was neither heroic or something that should be emulated in any way, by anyone.”
Nearly 14 years later, Jones would ignore his own advice and make a second attempt over the falls. On June 2, the U.S. Coast Guard recovered Jones’ body in Lake Ontario near the Village of Lewiston, N.Y. A brief press release issued by New York State Park Police Friday said investigators learned Jones was in the Niagara Falls area April 19, and may have been planning to go over the falls in a “large inflatable ball.”
A 10-foot-ball was spotted spinning in the rapids above the American Falls that same day. It eventually went over the falls and was recovered by a Maid of the Mist boat. There was no one inside.
Michael Clarkson, who interviewed Jones for his recent book The Age of Daredevils, said it’s likely Jones was thrown out of the ball by the force of the rapids.
There is no record of anyone surviving a plunge over the American Falls.
“The only way to do it is in a rubber ball,” said Clarkson. “If you survive the first bounce on the rocks you may be okay, but that’s a big maybe.”
Clarkson spoke to Jones shortly after the 2003 trip, which made worldwide headlines and landed Jones on talk shows like Good Morning America in the days following.
“As far as I remember, he seemed like a desperate guy,” he said. “Whether it was a suicide attempt or a daredevil feat, they never got to the bottom of it.
“He was an auto parts salesman, out of a job, living with his parents, had few friends. I think he wanted to make a name for himself, and this was the only way he thought he could do it.”
Two months after the plunge, Jones was fined just over $4,400 in a St. Catharines court room: $1,000 for mischief, $2,000 for performing an illegal stunt, and restitution of $1,408 to Journey Behind the Falls for the 45 minutes the attraction had to shut down during the rescue.
Court was told Jones and a friend visited Niagara Falls two days before the incident. They purchased a video camera, scouting areas near the falls. After some drinks on Oct. 20, 2003, Jones climbed a retaining wall and leaped into the river above the Horseshoe Falls.
“I heard people screaming and I just stared into the sun,” he told The Review. “Everything seemed very peaceful.”
After briefly blacking out, he found himself in the churning waters at the base of the falls: “I could not believe it. I was supposed to be dead … everyone’s always dead.”
What was supposed to be a suicide plunge only resulted in bruised ribs and a lost shoe.
Jones tried cashing in on his sudden fame by joining a circus, announcing a book, and planning a freefall stunt in Las Vegas. Having cheated death once, Jones intended to continue tempting it.
“In the end, probably what will take me is I’ll slip on a bar of soap in the bathtub,” he said in 2004.
In the end, it was Niagara Falls that would take him. It could not be defied a second time.
“There’s always going to be these people, desperate for money or attention or fame,” says Clarkson. “You can put laws into place, and you can turn the river off, but you can’t turn off human nature. There’s always going to be somebody who wants to do this.”