NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) - One of the people watching Nik Wallenda wishes he, too, could challenge the Falls. He's done it before in a barrel and survived.
Just as millions of tourists are drawn to thundering Niagara Falls each year, 65-year-old Canadian Peter Debernardi has been drawn to the Falls his whole life. He says a thunder god rules.
"There is so much power, I swear, there is an influence here. By Hanu, there is," the daredevil said.
Debernardi dresses like a showman because he is one. He gave the world a show on September 27, 1989 when he and a partner strapped into a specially made barrel cushioned with inner tubes and a crew pushed it into the rapids just above the Horseshoe Falls.
Debernardi says the ride in the rapids was rough, surprisingly rough, for him and his partner..
"He said, 'Holy God, we didn't even go over yet!' It's true. To get there was a hell of a ride," he remembered.
But then they met the brink.
Debernardi described, "As far as the fall, what I thought it'd be like, an elevator, like a free fall. It's like lying in bed. It's a free fall, very calm for 3.5 [seconds], then bang! Oh I'll never forget that bang."
That bang meant the two man barrel was clanging against rocks at the base of the Falls, over and over again. But Debernardi and Jeff Petkovich survived. What followed was a climb to safety, a ticket for stunting, and the beginning of a 23-year quest to do it again.
"Because I want to do it again. The first time was a practice run. Really," Debernardi said.
The daredevil submitted a formal request with the Niagara Parks Commission to ride a new lighter weight, high-tech barrel over the Falls - but was given a flat, "No." In the meantime, he is cheering on Wallenda and has this advice:
"Tune into the water. Respect the power, respect its power."
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