British Woman Tried To Sneak Across US Border On Frozen Niagara River

Falls rescuers pull couple from frozen Niagara Gorge.
Niagara Falls firefighters rappelled into the Niagara Gorge in frigid temperatures before dawn today to rescue a man and a woman who were stuck on the icy Niagara River, authorities said.

The woman allegedly was trying to sneak across the border from Canada by walking across the frozen river under the Rainbow Bridge. The man was apparently trying to help her when they realized they couldn't make it back up the steep, icy wall of the gorge.

"I don't know what was crazier," said Falls Fire Chief William Mackay, "the operation we had or the people who thought they could walk across the Niagara River."

The incident began at about 4 p.m. Friday when the two were stopped at the Rainbow Bridge when they tried to enter the United States from Canada.

The man, described as a 38-year-old U.S. citizen who had been living in Canada, was being deported back to the United States, according to Agent A.J. Price of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The woman, a British subject in her 50s with immigration status in Canada, was engaged to the man and had been living with him in Canada. Their names were not immediately available.

The man was allowed to cross, but the woman was denied entry, Price said.

"They made the decision that she would cross illegally on the ice under the bridge in nightfall," Price said. "Not the smartest thing to do."

The woman managed to make it all the way to the U.S. side but quickly discovered that the gorge walls were too steep and too icy to climb up.

Her fiance descended into the gorge, apparently by shimmying down some sort of pole, and reached her. But then he also was stuck.

"There was no way for them to get up," said State Police Lt. Peter Radwanski.

Around 1 a.m., as temperatures hovered around 14 degrees and the wind was blowing, the man called 911 for help. State Parks Police and firefighters responded.

"The first thing we had to do was determine where the individuals were," Mackay said.

That took some time. When the firefighters found them, the precarious nature of the situation was obvious. They realized the only way to get to the pair was by rope.

"The best way to gain access to them was to get our people over the edge and underneath the Rainbow Bridge," Mackay said.

Firefighters Mark Fontanella and Michael Naccarato, assigned to Truck 1, have specialized training in rope rescues and high-angle operations, and rappelled to the ice from a walkway under the bridge.

The man and woman, both suffering from hypothermia, were strapped into rescue baskets (called "stokes baskets"). Each was pulled up while accompanied by a firefighter.

The rescue operation took hours. "This was the third of four nights that [this crew] was up most of the night," said Mackay, noting the firefighters had worked two late-night fires earlier in the week.

During the rescue, responders at the scene didn't immediately know how the couple had ended up on the ice. But when parks police began asking questions, they got suspicious and alerted the U.S. Border Patrol, who quickly determined what the couple was trying to do.

The man and woman were taken by Mercy Flight to Erie County Medical Center for treatment. They were released this morning and taken into federal custody.

The woman is being charged with illegal entry and is being processed for deportation. The man is being charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting.

Mackay commended his firefighters and the parks police for the successful rescue.

"It really proved the value of team effort," he said. "We were able to make sure that these people got out the gorge with few injuries."
By Maki Becker
News Staff Reporter
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