By Don Glynn
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — NIAGARA FALLS — Two operators of those jet boats that swept through the lower Niagara River and rapids to the falls over the weekend did not violate any federal navigational laws, according to authorities.
The 26-foot BWC Gatlin jet boats launched at Youngstown traveled about 14 miles upriver, past the hydroelectric power plants at Lewiston and Queenston, through the Whirlpool and the rapids to within 100 yards of the falls.The boats also passed under four international bridges. They were operated by Mike Fox and Chris Bohnenkamp, who own the Fox BoyZ Marina adjacent to the Youngstown Village Dock.
Chief Dennis O’Connell, who heads the U.S. Coast Guard-Buffalo Sector and the USCG-Niagara Station, was quick to confirm Tuesday that the jet boat entrepreneurs were not found in violation of the law with their early Saturday trial run. It would be a different matter if they were carrying passengers, O’Connell said.
“This absolutely was not a stunt. Our goal was to prove how safe and reliable our jet boats are,” Fox said. He and his partner, Bohnenkamp, said they intend to establish a new tourist attraction called Niagara Jet Adventures. Except for a longer trip — including the treacherous rapids between the Whirlpool and the base of the falls — the ride would be similar to the Whirlpool Jet Boat tours now operating from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., and Lewiston to the Whirlpool, just south of the hydroelectric power plants along each side of the river.
Authorities on both sides of the river were caught by surprise when word spread that the jet boats were heading up river.
“I was returning from the Allegany Region when they informed me about the two boats. I was shocked,” said Lt. Patrick Moriarity, a 29-year veteran of the state park police force who has participated in numerous rescue and recovery operations along the Niagara Gorge.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Lt. Moriarity added, noting that neither jet boats nor other craft had ventured that far through the rapids and under the bridges.
Shortly after the initial alarm was sounded, a number of first responders were on the scene including the U.S. Coast Guard-Station Niagara, state park police and their counterparts on the Ontario side, and the Border Patrol. At first, the law enforcement officers could only speculate on what they were dealing with: stunters, smugglers, or errant boaters simply unfamiliar with the river. Each jet boat was piloted by two people and none of the four reported suffering any injuries from the turbulent ride.
One of the jet boats was registered in Idaho and the other in Oregon, authorities said. When Fox and Bohnenkamp acquire their new 33-seat vessels, they will then apply for a certificate of inspection and undergo the regulatory process before they can begin commercial operations. The investors are reportedly discussing plan to offer trips for $60 per person.