How illusionist David Copperfield survived his death-defying Niagara Falls plunge


Published February 14, 2023 at 10:41 am

Bound in steel bands and chains, illusionist David Copperfield prepares to go over Niagara Falls in 1990.

Between 1978 and 2001, the world’s most famous illusionist David Copperfield produced 18 TV specials for CBS-TV simply called The Magic of David Copperfield.

In  these specials, he did pretty much everything from making a Learjet and later the Statue of Liberty disappear, levitate over the Grand Canyon, walk through the Great Wall of China and even escape Alcatraz Prison.

Even at the age of 66, the master illusionist draws sold-out crowds when he performs at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and he shows no signs of slowing down.

But back in 1990, he landed at the American Falls for one of his most colourful and seemingly dangerous tricks ever. Copperfield was bound by chains around his wrists and ankles, put into a a yellow steel box (leaving only his hands and legs exposed) and then suspended in midair by chains inside a cubic platform built over a raft, complete with fire around the edge.

A jet ski was attached to the raft for his use once he escaped after he left adrift on the Niagara River to either get out… or plummet over the falls to his certain doom.

As the magician says in the special, “One of the most death-defying illusions of my career: I had less than 60 seconds to break free from chains to avoid plummeting 167 feet into the bottom of Niagara Falls!”

The Niagara Falls Challenge, as the TV special was called, did see him emerge unscathed after but how? The viewer never actually sees him escape but then the trick behind magic and illusion is drawing the audience’s attention away from what’s actually happening.

In short, the left hand distracts while the right hand does the dirty work.

However, here is Copperfield plunging over the falls in the TV special. If you wish to know how he did it, continue reading.

If not, marvel at the video and then quickly carry on with your day.


This explanation on how Copperfield survived this illusion was pulled from the internet so take it for what it is. Even after multiple viewings, it’s difficult to see any of this. But here we go.

Copperfield is locked on a platform slightly raised when he goes in the box. False feet are pushed through the openings. When his assistants lift the box, he slips under the platform.

When the focus is on the box and fire, Copperfield slips out and goes into the helicopter that sets the box on the Niagara River. At a set moment, the feet slide in and over the fall goes the box.

The helicopter then flies into the Niagara Gorge. Copperfield dumps water on himself and then climbs down the rope.

In reality, there’s no possible way Copperfield or anyone could escape the falls at any point as close to the brink as he was. The current is far too strong.

Illusionist David Copperfield check out the box he will be “locked” in on the left and on the right, emerges unscathed after his deadly plunge over Niagara Falls.

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