Note to all media – especially Idaho: Evel Knievel did NOT jump the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. Evel Knievel got less than 150 feet out from the South rim and dived into the Snake River Canyon. Evel Knievel likely NEVER INTENDED to jump over the Snake River Canyon. Got that?
Sepember 8, 1974. It was my first full week as a private pilot. I flew to Twin Falls to bring film of the “jump” back to a Boise TV station. So I was at the site when the fizzing, phony rockets lashed to an aluminum clad motorcycle scooted up the ramp and out – very briefly – into space.
Robert Craig Knievel was on the downhill side of his stunt career at that point. He’d been in various jails a number of times. Finally, one judge told him to go to jail again or join the army. He actually got the name “Evel” from a jailer in Montana who couldn’t spell. He tried – and failed at – a number of career choices including being the owner of a small time hockey team. At some point, he got interested in motocross and rode on the circuit for several years. Another dead end.
He got together some other starving cycle circuit riders in 1966 and had the idea of doing “daredevil” stunts including the jumps he was famous for. Many of the longer ones were in Las Vegas. Pretty good money for a while. But Evel had expensive tastes. At the end, he said he spent about two million more than he made in his lifetime and died broke.
The Idaho jump was the idea a friend of his after Kneivel had been turned down for a permit to jump the Grand Canyon. Twin Falls Commissioners granted the license and he built his “takeoff” ramp on the South side. Publicity went into overdrive. ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” got into a tizzy to get it all on “live” national television. Local Idaho stations didn’t have the satellite gadgetry they do today. So those wanting to show the Knievel “Snake River Canyon jump” on their own air had to have a film crew onsite. That’s how I got involved.
Nobody really stopped to look into the engineering and/or aeronautics of such a feat. Ol’ Evel just strapped a couple of noisy, smoky little rockets to the aluminum-enclosed “Buck Rogers” cycle inside. That was really it.
As “earth shaking” promotions of that sort often are, it completely lacked any sense of reality. But, Evel waved profusely to the crowd – and cameras – cranked up the “space cycle,” the phony rockets spewed a lot of smoke with some flashy sparks and made a whooshing sound. All the cameras rolled. Kneivel rode straight up the ramp, made a very small arc and disappeared. He went no further than 100 feet or so – nearly straight out. From the South side of the canyon, we couldn’t see where he went.
The parachute popped open as planned. The cycle tipped nose down and ol’ Evel floated down inside while the little “rocket ship” bounced off a few rocks. The crowd got excited. The camera guys pushed and shoved to get to the edge of the canyon. Lots of screaming by the crowd. But that was it. (more…)