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July 26, 2013

State Park Police and the Coast Guard warn boaters to steer clear of the 'Danger Zone'

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The evening of July 6 was a rough one for New York State Park Police.

First, they responded to the lower Niagara River gorge, near Devil’s Hole, after a young man slipped into the fast rushing water there.

As officers frantically searched for the man, they received another call to “expedite” to Prospect Point, where a woman was standing in the water at the brink of the falls.

But in between those two calls, the police radio crackled with another crisis. A jet skier had been sighted riding his personal watercraft into the Danger Zone leading into the upper river rapids.

“The call was for a jet skier approaching Goat Island. Our guys were in a difficult situation,” Park Police Lt. Patrick Moriarty said. “They were torn by their responsibility to the victim (in the lower river gorge) who might have still been alive and in need of rescue and the jet skier. Our guys couldn’t respond to the jet ski.”

An Erie County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, which was assisting Park Police in searching the lower river, peeled away and went to look for the jet skier. Moriarty said that neither the watercraft nor its rider were located.

But that didn’t diminish the danger the jet skier faced. 

“If seaweed or some other debris had gotten sucked into the (jet ski) motor, (the rider) would have been adrift and heading into the rapids,” Moriarty said. “There’s a reason why it’s called the Danger Zone.”

The Danger Zone is a federally designed no boating area that begins in the upper Niagara River about 3.2 miles from the brink of the falls. Roughy one-third of the zone is a massive reef where the water level can fall to as little as 6 inches. 

Motorists driving down the Robert Moses Parkway might look out at the river and see what appear to be large logs floating in the middle of it. Those logs are actually laying on the reef.

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