Niagara Falls Survivor Reunites With Boat Captain Hero

Woman rescued from near-death fall into Niagara Falls tells boat captain

ByABC News via logo
July 21, 2011, 7:42 AM

July 21, 2011 -- The 30-year-old Missouri woman rescued Monday from the dangerous waters of Niagara Falls had just four words for the boat captain who rescued her when she met him for the first time Wednesday night.

"You gave me everything," Lindsay Burgess told Corey Ziraldo when the two met in an emotional reunion at the Bufffalo, N.Y., hospital where Burgess is recovering.

Burgess and her fiancé, Rich Waggoner, both of Park Hills near St. Louis, were hiking in the Devil's Hole area of Niagara Falls' Whirlpool State Park in New York around 1 p.m. Monday when she tried to reach down and touch the swirling waters below one of the world's most powerful waterfalls.

"I just wanted to touch the beauty," Burgess told ABC News. Instead, she slipped on rocks on the shore, which caused her to fall into the rapids.

The churning waters sucked her in and whisked her away.

"It was like somebody pulled me in," she said. "I just remember one leg sliding down."

The waters that pulled Burgess in are 10 times more powerful than the rapids that carved the Grand Canyon out West, so fierce that nothing floats in the water, much less survives.

"It feels literally like a tornado underwater," Burgess recalled. "It was like trying to tread water in a tornado."

For Burgess' fiance watching on the shore, it was sheer terror.

"I just felt like I love her so much and to have her ripped out of my life, I was horrified," Waggoner said.

It was then that Ziraldo, aided by his quick-thinking crew and the eagle-eyed tourists aboard the Whirlpool Jet Tours boat he was captaining, came to Burgess' rescue.

Just as Burgess fell into the river, the tour boat passed by and saw a body in the water. Crew members quickly took action, led by Ziraldo.

"I was able to drive the boat immediately to where she was being held by the current," Ziraldo said.

Ziraldo and his crew pulled Burgess out of the water. She had been under water for about a minute before she resurfaced and the tour boat spotted her. The boat crew gave her CPR and transported her to the shore, where she was met by emergency officials. They took her to nearby Mount Saint Mary's Hospital for evaluation before being transferred to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo for further testing.

Burgess entered the hospital on a respirator, with doctors unsure whether she would survive.

She has since been moved out of the intensive care unit and is breathing and talking on her own, enough to say a heartfelt thank-you to the tour boat captain who gave her a second chance at life.

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