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Sun, Mar 15, 2009

Helicopter Pilot Called 'Angel' For Saving Man In Horseshoe Falls

Dramatic Rescue Made By Niagara Falls Sight-Seeing Company

Niagara Helicopters Limited, an aerial tour company based in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is being credited with saving the life of an apparently suicidal man who jumped into the rapids above the Horseshoe Falls last Wednesday.

Pilot and owner of Niagara Helicopters, Ruedi Hafen, said he and his team had to contend with some of the most treacherous conditions imaginable -- ice, high winds and waves -- while trying to rescue a man who was resisting their efforts. The man had already unhooked his arm from a sling extended to him, and Hafen said he was worried about the helicopter's tail rotor dipping in the water on subsequent attempts to pull the victim to safety.

"We had three good men on the helicopter and you strive for making this a success, the shore is 200-feet away and everyone on shore is ready for the guy. He was already in the water for 30 minutes and he was getting weaker."

Hafen tilted the helicopter at an angle which created a wave that swept the man closer to shore, making it easier for rescuers on the ground to reach out to him. The man is now recovering in the hospital.

The Niagara Fire Department called Hafen an "angel."

"I've been living on a cloud," the 56-year-old pilot said. "I'm very elated. Nobody got injured, we didn't lose any equipment. It was a team effort, I was just the pilot."

Niagara Helicopters, which is better known for its aerial sight-seeing tours over Niagara Falls, has been an active participant in search and rescue missions in the Niagara Region for over 27 years. Staff volunteer their time and take annual search and rescue training courses, while the company donates the use of its helicopters, life-saving equipment and fuel for the missions.

"We have the experience and the equipment and want to do whatever we can to help people in dire situations," maintains Hafen. "When we get calls we go, no questions asked."

FMI: www.niagarahelicopters.com

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