Escape artist Anthony Martin falls while handcuffed and locked inside a coffin after being dropped from an airplane on Tuesday.
By Andrea Thomas, The Associated Press
SERENA, Ill. -- A daredevil parachuted gently into a northern Illinois field Tuesday, after managing to free himself from shackles and a locked coffin while plummeting through the air.
Anthony Martin waved to the cameras and the crowd that turned out to watch his stunt after he landed in Serena, Ill., about 70 miles southwest of Chicago.
Scott Eisen / AP
Anthony Martin raises his hands in celebration after landing safely.
After being dragged from a plane at about 14,500 feet up, the coffin whipped wildly from side-to-side with Martin inside. One of the two skydivers who were steadying the box was hit in the face, but everyone landed safely.
Martin, 47, said that after freeing himself, he got clear of the coffin and tracked it as it fell to the ground, just as he did when he first pulled off the stunt 25 years ago on just his 17th skydive.
The Sheboygan, Wis., man began studying the art of escape at age 6 after his father shattered his early fascination with magic by explaining the trickery behind a floating pen illusion.
"I thought that skill and knowledge could surpass trickery and magic," he said. Martin took locks apart until he understood how the mechanisms operate and are put together.
"At 10 I had pretty much started to specialize in escapes," Martin says. "By the time I was 13, the sheriff was locking me in his handcuffs. And I was getting out."
Scott Eisen / AP
The damaged box Anthony Martin escaped from on Tuesday.
Jumping from a raft into a lake at age 11 - naturally, with his hands cuffed behind his back - whet Martin's appetite for high risk escapes. So in February 1990, he performed his most dangerous water stunt, in which he was locked in a cage and lowered through a hole in the ice and into the frigid water at a Wisconsin quarry. It took him one minute and 45 seconds to emerge.
"It was very, very cold," Martin said. "It doesn't take long for your fingers, even with gloves, to get numb and lose effectiveness ... you have to work very quickly."
Martin first pulled off dropped coffin stunt in an August 1988 on just his 17th skydive.
During Tuesday's jump, Martin laid inside a plywood box with his hands cuffed to a belt around his waist and his right arm chained to the inside of the box. The casket's door was then held tight with a prison door lock for which no key exists; a locksmith scrambled the tumblers.
The box was dragged from the plane at about 14,500 feet, and two skydivers helped stabilize it by holding handles on its side while a drogue similar to the parachutes used to slow drag-racing cars and fighter jets further steadied it.
This Sunday, daredevil Nik Wallenda -- who famously traversed Niagara Falls on a tightrope last year -- will attempt another extreme balancing act: walking a tightrope over the Grand Canyon. Wallenda carries on a family tradition with his tricks -- he is the seventh generation of the "Great Wallendas," a stunt-performing family. And he calls to mind daredevils past, who have shocked the public for more than 100 years with their daring feats (and failures.)
Bain News Service via Library of Congress
Annie Edson Taylor stands next to a huge barrel which bears the writing "Queen of the Mist."
Annie Edson Taylor (1901)
The historic stunts attempted at Niagara Falls vary from swims and falls under and over the falls to tightrope walks and velocipede rides over them. Though many had tried and failed before her, Annie Edson, a 63-year-old schoolteacher, was the first daredevil to successfully go over the enormous waterfalls. Taylor – who believed the fall would pave her way to fame and fortune – took the plunge in a wooden barrel on Oct. 24, 1901. It took 17 minutes for the barrel to be pulled to shore where, to tremendous surprise, Taylor emerged with no more than a gash on her head.
Getty Images file
Hungarian-born American magician, escape artist, and psychic debunker Harry Houdini (1874 - 1926) shows his handcuffs as he stands in a wooden box on a boat and prepares to be submerged, a predicament from which he will escape to the delight of onlookers, in the East River in New York City on July 7, 1912.
Harry Houdini (1912)
Harry Houdini’s legendary escape acts captivated audiences around the turn of the 20th century. In 1912, Houdini first performed one of his most famous tricks when he escaped from a securely closed packing crate completely submerged in New York’s East River. The trick began with Houdini publicly locked in handcuffs and leg-irons inside the 200-pound crate, which was then nailed shut, secured and lowered into the water. As if by magic, it took Houdini only 57 seconds to escape.
In the early 1970s, Philippe Petit made a name for himself by walking across wire strung between landmarks like the towers of Paris’ Notre Dame and the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Petit’s most daring walk, however, took place on Aug. 7, 1974, between New York’s newly erected Twin Towers. Petit did not have permission to perform his legendary stunt, and he playfully evaded authorities, who stood on the roofs of both towers, for 45 minutes as he walked back and forth across the wire with only a balancing pole. Petit was arrested after he stepped off the wire, but all formal charges were eventually dropped due to the stunt’s popularity among the public.
Evel Knievel attempts to jump over Snake River Canyon.
Jeb Corliss shows one of his wingsuits at Perris Valley Skydiving complex in November 2007, in Perris, Calif. Corliss has developed a "wingsuit
Evel Knievel, possibly the most famous daredevil of all time, attempted his most ambitious jump ever -- attempting to soar over Snake River Canyon with a rocket-powered cycle on Sept. 8, 1974. The launch was unsuccessful, though; the parachute on Knievel’s "skycycle" accidentally deployed, and headwinds carried Knievel back into the canyon, where he crashed, 600 feet below, suffering only minor injuries. Knievel died in 2007 but continues to inspire the next generation of daredevils – both stuntman Mike Hughes and Knievel’s son, Robbie, have vowed to recreate the failed jump. Hughes has begun testing his own steam-powered rocket and plans to take the leap on the 40th anniversary of Knievel’s jump in 2014.
San Pedro News Pilot via AP file
Larry Walters is barely visible as his helium balloon-rigged aluminum lawnchair drifts skyward after tether lines broke during what was supposed to be a short flight, on July 2, 1982. The flight turned into a 45-minute venture during which Walters was spotted by pilots of TWA and Delta jetliners at an altitude of 16,000 feet.
Larry Walters (1982)
On July 2, 1982, truck driver Larry Walters boarded his homemade flying machine – a patio chair tied to 45 helium weather balloons. Walters had anticipated rising up to a hundred or so feet, but, much to his surprise, his calculations were off and the lawn chair climbed to an altitude of 15,000 feet. After flying for nearly an hour, Walters shot pellets at the balloons and gracefully descended , inadvertently landing on several power lines and causing a major blackout. Upon reaching the ground, Walters was arrested for having flown into federal airspace.
Jeb Corliss (2006)
In April of 2006, professional BASE jumper Jeb Corliss, known for jumping from landmarks such as Seattle's Space Needle and Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, tried and failed to jump off the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Corliss had been planning the jump for years. But as he prepared to jump, he was restrained by building security and arrested by NYPD. Corliss received three years’ probation and 100 hours of community service, along with a permanent ban from the Empire State Building.
Travis Pastrana (2010)
Travis Pastrana breaks world record for longest rally car jump.
On New Year’s Eve 2009, crowds gathered in Long Beach, Calif., to watch Travis Pastrana break the world record for longest rally car jump. Pastrana’s jump of 274 feet was successful, shattering the previous record of 171 feet set three years prior by Ken Block, Pastrana’s Subaru teammate. Upon landing, Pastrana’s Subaru skidded and crashed into a wall, but the driver emerged unharmed and victoriously backflipped into the water he had just crossed.
The French climber Alain Robert -- aka “the French Spider-Man” -- has been arrested for nearly all of his daring climbs, some of which include scaling the world’s tallest buildings with nothing more than climbing shoes and chalked hands. On March 28, 2011, he performed a legal climb of the tallest building in the world: the 2,722-foot Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Though it’s not usually his style, Robert decided to conform to safety laws and allowed himself to be attached to a safety harness for the six-hour event.
Felix Baumgartner (2012)
On Oct. 14, 2012, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner fell to Earth after ascending to an altitude of 128,100 feet (approximately 24 miles) via helium balloon. Baumgartner became the first human to break the sound barrier, and his jump was the highest and fastest in history, with his maximum speed measured at 833.9 miles per hour. The world was able to experience the spectacular views of Earth’s stratosphere, along with the moment of the jump, from a camera installed in Baumgartner’s capsule.
But unlike during the highly publicized stunt last summer, Nik Wallenda, 34, didn’t use a safety harness or tether to catch him if he stumbled.
During his walk, he carried a 42-foot-long balancing pole that weighs 45 pounds.
“It is windy, it’s very windy,” Wallenda could be heard saying while performing the walk Tuesday. “It’s uncomfortable, of course, but it’s all about the training. You don’t expect it to be this windy but this high up and the water here, it just makes it that much worse.”
Although his contract for the live televised Niagara Falls walk last year required him to wear a harness, Sarasota officials gave him a green light for the walk without the safety line.
“I’m risking my life,” Wallenda said. “Now it’s just a lot of practice and prayer, that’s about it.”
A Sarasota native, Wallenda said he received warm praise and support for his stunt from other members of his hometown.
"He is the legacy of the Wallenda family," Sarasota City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell told NBC affiliate WFLA in Tampa, Fla. "We have love for Nik. We have passion for Nik. We have faith in Nik and trust in Nik."
Tim Boyles / Getty Images
Nik Wallenda walks across a tightrope 200 feet above U.S. 41 on Jan. 29 in Sarasota, Fla.
An outspoken critic of using safety nets during high-wire walks, Wallenda comes from a circus family that included his great grandfather, Karl Wallenda, who fell to his death during a performance in Puerto Rico in 1978.
“I have to give props to my great grandfather because I can almost guarantee you that he would have stopped in the middle of this cable and did a headstand," Wallenda said. "That just shows you what an amazing performer he was.”
Self-described as "The King of the Wire," Wallenda has set six Guinness World records for various acrobatic stunts, including the record for highest bicycle ride on a high wire -- 260 feet above the ground. He also hung by his teeth from a helicopter 250 feet off the ground, and he said he plans to tight rope across the Grand Canyon.
Wallenda’s walk will launch his three-week run as a performer at Circus Sarasota.