NIAGARA FALLS, New York (Reuters) - Hours before a historic tightrope walk across Niagara Falls on Friday night the spotlight has focused on whether aerialist Nik Wallenda would keep his safety harness on as required for the daring attempt.
The 33-year-old American, a member of the famed “Flying Wallendas” family of aerialists, is set to walk a cable stretched from the U.S. side of the falls to the Canadian and said he will carry his passport.
ABC, the television network that will broadcast the event with a five-second delay, has insisted he wear a safety tether - a first for the performer - that will connect him to the cable should he fall, and will stop broadcasting if he unhooks it.
Wallenda fought the condition at first, eventually agreeing. But he gave himself an out: he will unhook only if directed to do so by his father, who designed the harness and will act as his safety coordinator.
“I‘m a man of my word,” Wallenda said.
ABC, however, maintains that a problem with the tether will spell the end of the stunt.
“If there is a safety issue, if the tether gets snagged, then Nik would simply sit down on the wire. Untethered, we will not be broadcasting a live image of him,” said Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president at ABC News.
If the harnessed Wallenda falls, ABC will switch its cameras to a wider angle and begin covering the entertainment event as a news story, Schneider said.
Wallenda said roughly a billion people internationally will see his 45-minute stunt. Schneider declined to provide an audience estimate.
Wallenda said he was jittery with excitement about making his childhood dream a reality when he takes his first measured steps on the wire just after 10 p.m. EDT (0200 GMT).
“It’s more anticipation and eagerness, but it’s all coming down to the wire, no pun intended,” Wallenda said at a news conference on Thursday.
Wallenda intends to walk a two-inch cable strung 1,800 feet through the mist over Niagara Falls Gorge, a feat never before attempted. The walk is 150 feet above the falls, he said.
More than a century ago, an aerialist known as the Great Blondin walked a high wire strung farther down the gorge, but a trek over the brink of the falls has never been attempted.
“Hopefully it will be very peaceful and relaxing,” Wallenda said. “I‘m often very relaxed when I‘m on the wire.” He added, “There may be some tears because this is a dream of mine.”
Since the Great Blondin took his high-wire walk, a ban has been in place on similar stunts over the famed falls. Wallenda waged a two-year crusade to convince U.S. and Canadian officials to let him try the feat.
Thousands of visitors are expected to watch in person on both the U.S. side and Canadian side of the falls. A private helicopter rescue team is part of the $1.3 million that Wallenda said he has spent on the walk.
Wallenda’s great grandfather Karl Wallenda died in 1978 during a walk between two buildings in Puerto Rico at age 73. Wallenda repeated that walk last year with his mother.
Wallenda said he has obtained permits for a future walk over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, which would be the first ever attempted and roughly three times longer than the walk over Niagara Falls.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Anthony Boadle