On the evening of Wednesday, March 4th, 2020 viewers throughout the United States of America tuned into ABC to watch a two hour long special titled “Volcano Live! With Nik Wallenda”. Nik, comes from a long line of dare devils and professional stunt performers. Nik specializes in high wire aerial stunts and has been nicknamed The King of the Wire. He is known throughout the world for accomplishing death defying aerial stunts without the use of a safety net or harness, when insurance companies will allow him to do so. He holds several Guinness World records for his stunts. In 2012, Nik became the first person to walk across Niagara Falls on a tight rope, followed by crossing the Grand Canyon in 2013, and then traversing across a tight rope suspended between two sky scrapers in Chicago. Each of these feats, and many more, have amazed audiences, but have left Nik wondering how to challenge himself next.
Having passed the elemental challenges of sky walking across water (Niagara Falls) and wind (Chicago), Nik had one last element to face for his trifecta, heat. While on vacation 7 years ago with his wife and fellow performer, Erendira Vasquez, they came across the site that would become the greatest challenge of both of their careers. It was the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. Nik said, “When I walked up to the edge, I knew that it was the one. This is the one I had to face.” It was just a matter of waiting for the time to be right. Now, just a few weeks past the Sarasota, FL native’s 41st birthday, the time was right. It was time for Nik to start planning and practicing for his next high wire stunt, over one of the world’s most active volcano.
Walking over one of only eight volcanoes in the world with an active lava lake set for a whole new spectrum of challenges for Nik. To prepare for the walk he and his team had to study the site to find the ideal placement for the wire. They did this using a drone that could get in to see where they could not physically go. Drones are equipped with high definition cameras that allow people to collect critical data in situations where regular handheld equipment won’t work. Researchers have access to drones specially configured to study volcanic activity. These drones are able to withstand the extreme heat, gusts of wind, and chemical fumes found in the air around a volcano. Nik quickly learned just how difficult his task would be when the drone they were using to scope out the volcano became damaged by the volcanic gases. Luckily those preliminary trips provided Nik and his team with the data needed to properly calibrate the placement of the wire and determine what type of safety equipment would be needed to complete the stunt.
Finally the day of the stunt was upon Nik and Erendira, who had decided to perform an aerial ballet of sorts over the volcano just a few days before the show. Suspended by cables hanging from a helicopter, Erendira hung onto a trapeze ring from her toes and teeth, performing yoga like poses, all over the mouth of the volcano known as “The Mouth of Hell”. Shortly after, it was Nik’s turn to walk across “The Mouth of Hell”, over the bubbling lava lake, and through the noxious sulfur dioxide swirling through the air. To protect himself Nik wore safety goggles (that he eventually had to remove due to poor vision) along with an additional 13lbs of weight strapped to his back from an oxygen tank and mask. Nik was also required by ABC to wear a safety tether for this live stunt, after all, if he fell there would be no coming back.
Nik’s journey across the Masaya Volcano, that included a steep incline, took about 30 minutes. Every second and angle of both his and Erendira’s death defying acts was caught on camera with the help of 17 strategically placed cameras and 4 drones. ABC had to be very careful where they placed their camera crews while still providing the audience with amazing views of the action. Drones are critical for TV broadcasting like this. Without the drones, there would have been no way for the show producers to safely follow Nik across the volcano. Following Nik or Erendira with a helicopter for their stunts could prove too dangerous from the extra winds it’s rotors would make. Not to mention that using another helicopter for filming would be outrageously expensive. The drones can get in to capture every detail from every angle at a safe distance. The drones don’t make any extra wind, and are minimally distracting, key points when suspended 1,800ft above a lava lake. The question remains, how will Nik and Erendira possibly top their latest feats.
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