Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005

Villager photo by Daniel Wallace

Jonah Spear and Paul Cannon

Trapeze instructors make save, keep swinging by to offer help

By Daniel Wallace

Two trapeze instructors swung to the rescue last Thursday to save a man who had leapt into the Hudson River near Tribeca.

James Kue, 23, had alighted from a nearby pier and was floating face down in the water when a police officer came to the Desbrosses St. high-wire cage of Trapeze School New York asking for a rope.

“Paul went running across the rig with a spool of rope, and I grabbed some flotation devices and followed,” said Jonah Spear, 23, one of the rescuers, referring to Paul Cannon, 40, his fellow instructor.

When the instructors reached the river they saw Kue’s body sinking below the surface.

“Paul and I looked at each other, and it was clear that someone had to jump in,” said Spear.

Without hesitation Cannon dove in, and Spear — cell phone and wallet in his pocket — followed. A police officer tied one end of the rope to a guardrail while Spear swam with the other end in hand and Cannon dove for the body.

Cannon found Kue on the second dive.

“He was about 10 feet down,” Canon said. “It was pretty murky and you couldn’t see anything. I happened to bump into him.”

Spear shook his head. “If we hadn’t got him on the second dive,” he said, “he was gone.”

Cannon grabbed Kue’s wrist underwater and hauled him to the surface. It was a windy day and the churning waves buffeted the rescue effort.

“I was working hard,” Cannon said. “A lot of kicking and scrambling.”

Cannon said Kue’s eyes were rolled back, his mouth was foaming and his body was heavy and lifeless. Both Cannon and Spear thought he was dead.

The rescuers attempted to tie the rope around Kue but the wind and waves made it impossible. Fortunately the trapeze class had followed the instructors to the river and some students wearing safety belts were standing nearby.

A safety belt was thrown down and, with it wrapped securely around his body, Kue was hauled to shore. Andra Alexander, a tourist from Indiana who taught C.P.R. for five years and was a trapeze student that day, began resuscitating Kue. After a minute or so he was revived.

The two men spoke modestly of their heroic role.

“Saving someone’s life is the greatest honor you can have,” said Spear.

Cannon said he did not feel proud but simply glad for what he’d done.

“I hear people say that it was dangerous to dive in,” Cannon said. “But the alternative was to stand around and watch someone die. And I’m damn glad I didn’t do that, because I’d be living with it the rest of my life.”

Their heroic deed has made the instructors the subject of a barrage of media attention over the past few days. But they have not been happy with the coverage.

“Of all the interviews I’ve done, nobody has asked how James is,” Cannon said.

Having saved Kue’s life, his well-being is important to both Cannon and Spear.

Kue, a Detroit resident, who, according to Canon, had moved to New York the Monday before the incident, is in stable condition at Bellevue hospital. Cannon and Spear have been visiting his room. They’ve talked to him extensively, brought him clothes, food, books at his request (Shakespeare); and Cannon is connecting him to a local charity — New Eyes for the Needy — in order to fill a much-needed optical prescription.

Cannon said the nurse at Bellevue told him Kue doesn’t really need to be there anymore.

“But he’s got nowhere else to go,” Cannon said. “He needs a break; he needs a job, a place to stay — he needs a chance. And I hope that happens.”

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