The Jeanette Bugay Story

May 14th 1950

A woman was reported clinging to rocks, approximately 75 feet from the Goat Island shoreline, in the upper Niagara River. This is approximately 300 yards above the Horseshoe Falls. The woman was identified as Jeanette Bugay, age 25 of Niagara Falls, New York. How Mrs. Bugay came to be stranded was a puzzle which was never solved and had been reported missing by her husband the day before this incident unfolded.

A pontoon equipped Bell 47D1 helicopter from Bell Aerospace Company in Niagara Fall, New York with two test pilots responding to this emergency. Pilot, Owen Niehaus of Grand Island, New York and Co-pilot, Joseph Cannon of Niagara Falls, New York arrived a short time later.

Hovering over the stranded woman, they attempted an aerial rescue of this woman. With the right side pontoon gingerly resting on a protruding rock, Cannon left the aircraft compartment and crawled onto this pontoon.

While standing on the pontoon and using an attached winch, Cannon was able to tie a rope around the hysterical woman’s waist. The sudden movement of Cannon caused the nose of the helicopter to dip into the water. As Neihaus struggled to counter balance the helicopter, a wave struck the pontoon, forcing the tail rotor into the water and crashing onto some rocks. Cannon scrambled back into the cockpit as the helicopter flipped over onto its side a few feet away from the woman.  Neihaus and Cannon were able to crawl out of the cockpit and onto the exposed pontoon. The woman who was held in place by the rope was lifted onto the pontoon by Cannon.

Firemen and policemen tried to guide an aluminum boat more than 100 yards downstream from the western tip of the Three Sister Islands however this was unsuccessful. A second helicopter called to the scene when rescue teams were unable to assist those stranded. The second Bell Aerospace helicopter, piloted by William Gallagher and co-pilot George White dropped a line to one of the stranded air crew. The helicopter then dropped the other end of the rope to the rescue teams on shore. The boat was attached to the second line which was stretched between the shore and the stranded victims. With several volunteers aboard the boat, it was ferried across the rapids to the victims and then hand guided to the rock. The three victims were able to climb aboard the boat and were pulled to safety over several trips.

The three victims were taken to St. Mary’s Hospital suffering from shock, minor cuts and bruises. They were later released.

The three passenger Bell helicopter which was valued at $25,000 was subsequently salvaged.

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