Helicopter Flight Over
Niagara County Waterfalls
By Scott A. Ensminger
By the autumn of 1993 Ross Markello, a retired anesthesiologist and waterfall explorer, and I had located and photographed roughly 24 waterfalls found along the Niagara Escarpment between the Niagara and Genesee Rivers. Looking at topographic maps suggested to us that there should be more.
In early March of 1994 Ross expressed an intriguing idea to me. He proposed renting a helicopter near the Niagara Falls International Airport and flying north to the escarpment and then eastwards along it looking for waterfalls. He figured the ideal time would be during the spring thaw before the foliage emerged. Renting a helicopter is an expensive thrill ride at $450 per hour.
We met our pilot Phil at the airport early on a Saturday morning. I had invited Gerry Rising, the writer of a nature column in the Buffalo News, to accompany us. Phil suggested Ross and I sit in the rear with Gerry up front. He also suggested removing the rear doors of the helicopter to allow for better photographing. “You gotta be kidding!” exclaimed Ross. Flying in near freezing temperatures with the doors off and one foot on the landing runner didn’t appeal to Ross. I looked at the somewhat frayed seat belts and wondered about their strength. The doors stayed on. Ross and I would have to shoot through small open windows in the doors.
The Ancient Falls
The helicopter lifted off and provided us with a spectacular view. “Now I’ll see what you guys are made of,” said Phil our pilot. We climbed to an altitude of 1,000 feet and headed north. Soon we arrived at the escarpment dropped down to 500 feet, and turned to the east. Flying just a little north of the escarpment allowed us to look towards the south at the face of the escarpment and search for waterfalls. After a little over an hour in the air we had spotted eight waterfalls, two of which we had not known about. We were now east of Gasport, New York. Ross spotted a waterfall that he had predicted from looking at topographic maps. I asked Phil to circle it so I could get some shots of it. Phil nearly turned the copter on its side and began a tight circle of the falls. Looking through the telephoto lens of my camera the ground seamed to whizz by at 1,000 miles an hour.
Plank Road Falls
Ross looked over at me and noticed that I was a little green and sweaty. He remarked to our pilot Phil that the last thing we needed in the tiny helicopter cabin was me fainting or barfing from a attack of motion sickness. Phil landed in a cornfield, scaring off some geese. I regained my color after a few minutes and we took off and headed back to the airport.
Gerry, Ross, and I all agreed that it had been an interesting and exhilarating experience. However the cramped helicopter cabin and the strong vibrations resulted in only a few good photographs.
Otto Dam and Falls
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You must obtain permission from the landowner to enter private property.
Recreation on private property is a privilege, NOT A RIGHT.
Copyright © 2016 by Scott A. Ensminger.
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