NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — A tourist clung to a well-placed rock in the middle of pounding rapids near the brink of Niagara Falls as rescuers teetered across a fallen tree to reach him.
John Dwyer, 30, of Newport, R.I., would have been swept over the Horseshoe Falls in less than a minute had he lost his grip, New York State Park Police said Friday, a day after the rescue.
"He was hanging on. I don't know how long he was there," Chief Vincent Iacovitti said. "He indicated to the officers he was there a long time."
Dwyer was treated for shock and exposure at Niagara Falls Medical Center and later charged with reckless endangerment for risking the lives of the officers who rescued him, as well as disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration, police said.
He was arraigned Friday in Niagara City Court and was being held on $1,000 bail. He was unavailable for comment at the city jail.
About 3 p.m. Thursday, Dwyer and a friend decided to wade into the Niagara River off the northwest shore of a grouping of islands that attracts thousands of tourists daily, even though wading is prohibited.
"You can really get a perspective on the power of the rapids there," Iacovitti said.
Dwyer apparently lost his footing and was swept through a small, swift channel between two islands and shot out into the rapids, where he found a rock below the surface of the water and held on.
With a growing audience of tourists, a three-man rescue team made its way across a tree that had fallen from Three Sisters Island onto Little Brother Island to get close enough to throw a line to Dwyer.
"Our officers had to go into the water to get closer. They tied themselves on to do that," the chief said.
"If he would have broken loose from that location, there wouldn't have been a whole heck of a lot we would have been able to do," he added.
Once rescuers had Dwyer secured in a basket, "the trick was to get him back over to Three Sister Island across the fallen tree trunks," Iacovitti said. Rescuers accomplished that by sliding the basket along the tree, which was about a foot in diameter.
There are no fences keeping tourists from the water, but the obvious power of the rapids is enough to keep most from venturing in.
Even so, said Iacovitti, "there's always individuals out there who like to experiment and explore."