Saving a Life With Knots

March 18, 2004

Baden-Powell wrote:

Just before I arrived in Canada a number of years ago, an awful tragedy had happened at the Niagara Falls.

It was mid-winter.  Three people, a man and his wife and a boy of seventeen, were walking across a bridge which the ice had formed over the rushing river under the falls, when it suddenly began to crack and to break up.  The man and his wife found themselves on one floe of ice floating away from the main part, and the boy was on another.

All around them the water was covered with similar floating blocks of ice, grinding and bumping against each other.  The three people were at the mercy of the current, which here moved slowly, but gradually and surely carried them downstream towards the awful rapids a mile away.

People on the banks saw their dangerous position, and thousands collected, but not one seemed able to do anything to help them.  Swimming was impossible.  So was a boat rescue.

For an hour the poor wretches floated along.  Then the river carried them under two bridges, which span the river just before the rapids.

On the bridges, 160 feet above the water, men had lowered ropes so that they hung down in the path of the drifting people.

As they passed by, the boy managed to grasp a rope, and willing hands proceeded to haul him up.  But when they had him about half-way, the poor fellow could hold on no longer.  He fell down in the icy stream, and was never seen again.

The man on the other floe also grasped a rope which he tried to fasten around his wife, so that she, at any rate, might be saved.  But the current was now rushing them along.  His hands were numb.  He failed to fasten the rope.  It slipped from his hands.

And a few seconds later both he and his wife ended their tortures by being sucked under the water in the heavy swirling rapids.

…People often think: "What is the good of learning such a simple thing as tying knots?"  Well, here was a case in which that knowledge might have saved three lives.  When the ropes were lowered from the bridge they should have had a loop or two tied in them for the victims to put around themselves, or to put their arms or legs through.  As it was, the ropes had no loops, and the people, not knowing how to tie bowlines or any other type of loop, were unable to save themselves.

Baden-Powell, Robert.  Scouting for Boys, 35th edition, 5th printing, 1999.

Good night, gentlemen.