AUSTRALIA-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > AUSTRALIA-OBITS > 2006-07 > 1154089848
From: Deborah Woolmore <>
Subject: Wes HILL 14-5-1930 - 12-6-2006
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 2006 22:30:52 +1000
Retrieved daredevils and the dead keen
WES HILL RIVERMAN
14-5-1930 - 12-6-2006
WES Hill, a Canadian riverman who lived near the Niagara Falis and was
responsible for saving 50 people from drowning in the rapids above and
below the famous North American waterfalls - and also retrieved the
bodies of about 400 people who committed suicide, or were failed
daredevils - has died in his bed from an embolism. He was 76.
The Niagara Falls, on the border between the US and Canada, have
attracted honeymooners since the 19th century, but Oscar Wilde declared
them "the second major disappointment of American married life"; they
rival San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge as the favourite suicide point
in North America.
Hill found that the best way to retrieve a body from the whirlpool at
the bottom of the 52-metre drop into Lake Ontario was to wait until it
had drifted about 30 metres from the shore; he'd then to swim out and
put a rope round it.
Wesley Bryant Hill, a third generation riverman, was born at Niagara
and became aware of the dangers as a young child when he watched his
father, Red, trying to run the rapids in a barrel that was too heavy.
Hill snr waved a Union flag as a distress signal and his older son, Red
jnr swam out to attach a hook, and he was hauled in by 12 men.
Another son, Norman, was later drowned, while Red jnr and the third son,
Major (who was to die in a fight in jail), competed against each other
in the water.
Hill, who pulled his first body out of the river at 12, was sufficiently
experienced at 21 to warn Red jnr not to go over the falls in a
makeshift contraption that consisted of giant inner tubes in a fishing
net; it was supposed to float on the water.
When Red jnr called out, "I'll see you later," on his way to a tavern
before making the attempt, Hill replied, "No, you.won't."
About 200,000 spectators watched 'The Thing" go over the edge, to be
smashed on the rocks below, Red's body was found next day, and Hill was
angry with his brother. "I was mad that he didn't have enough brains to
know that the contraption wouldn't work. But after it was all over, I
had no feeling, Everybody has to live their own life."
Hill was never tempted to go over the falls himself; he had seen two men
go over them twice, and said that anybody who tried to conquer them
again was not a hero, but a fool.
Hill left school at 16 and did a variety of factory jobs, and later
worked as a constable for the Niagara Parks Commission police. He
claimed that his Job as a riverman, which is now done by police in
high-speed boats, only paid him enough to replace his ropes - but he
received $US50 to $75 from undertakers for every body retrieved,
A keen hunter and fisherman, and a caller at square dances and bingo
halls, Hill acted as a technical adviser on a number of films. He used
to bring Marilyn Monroe coffee and doughnuts during the shooting of
Niagara (1950), and beat Christopher Reeve at miniature golf before work
began on the set of Superman 2 (1980), for which Hill designed a dummy
to be rescued by the hero from the lower rapids.
Asked why a man wearing only a parka survived a tumble over the falls in
2003 (a seven-year-old boy in a lifejacket survived a similar plunge in
1960 when a boat capsized), Hill said it was just luck: "He could do
that 100 times, and every time he'd get killed."
Hill is survived by his wife Sarah and four children. TELEGRAPH
The Age Friday 21 July Page 12
|Wes HILL 14-5-1930 - 12-6-2006 by Deborah Woolmore <>|