Wallenda hangs by teeth from helicopter over Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — Erendira Wallenda, the aerialist wife of daredevil Nik Wallenda, successfully hung by her teeth from a helicopter over Niagara Falls on Thursday, pulling off the stunt five years to the day her husband walked a tight rope over the falls.

The 36-year-old mother of three was tethered to a hoop suspended from a helicopter 300 feet (91 meters) above the water.

With the mist from the falls as a backdrop, Wallenda worked herself into a series of dramatic poses, waving her arms as she dangled by her knees and toes and doing handstands and splits. She hung twice by her teeth with the use of a mouth guard.

About 200 people watched on shore at Niagara Falls State Park, many with cellphones aloft to capture photos and video of Wallenda, who appeared as a graceful silhouette against the clouds.

“There are no words. It was beautiful,” she said afterward.

The Wallendas said the stunt broke a height record Nik Wallenda set in 2011 when he hung by his teeth 250 feet (76 meters) above Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.

Erendira Wallenda said she was caught off guard by the windy conditions above the cataracts, something her husband had to deal with during his 2012 stunt.

“I respect this man so much more because it was way more windy than I thought it would be,” she said.

Helicopter pilot Paul Barth said Wallenda signaled to him to fly higher during the routine to get away from the wind.

“She was trying to get up above the turbulence,” said Barth of Palm Beach, Florida, who has worked before with the Wallendas. “It billows up as you can tell by the spray.”

The aerialist spent about eight minutes of the 10-minute stunt hovering over the falls.

Afterward, she and her husband spoke of the attraction of the falls, which has long attracted daredevils.

“There’s something almost magical that draws you to it. It’s kind of dangerous but it’s beautiful in the same way,” she said.

County and city officials who helped finance the stunt hope people watching news coverage will feel the same pull. The city and Niagara County Legislature each committed $35,000 to the stunt with the goal of boosting tourism.

Scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on a weekday, Erendira Wallenda’s stunt drew nowhere near the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of her husband’s 2012 prime-time high wire walk. Legislators and the Wallendas said the payoff would come later, with the spread of photos and video from the stunt.

“It’s generating the awareness, getting people here, people who wouldn’t have come before,” said Randy Bradt, the county legislature’s majority leader. “I really believe the rate of return on our investment will be tenfold for us.”

The Wallendas have talked about opening a Wallenda-themed entertainment complex in Niagara Falls for several years, but there has been little, if any, public progress. The Wallendas are scheduled to go on a 2 ½-month tour with the Big Apple Circus in October, Nik Wallenda said.

Erendira Wallenda, who traces her circus roots back seven generations on one side and eight on the other, also performs on a 70-foot sway pole and high wire. She set a world record in 2016 by completing 40 revolutions in her hoop in 50 seconds beneath a helicopter above the Atlantic City shore.

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