"Submerged Coffin -- Winnipeg"

Red River Submerged CoffinJohnny Carson referred to Dean Gunnarson as "That Crazy Canadian" on "The Tonight Show" after learning the 19 year old escape artist barely eluded death on October 30, 1983. This year, Dean wished to commemorate Harry Houdini's death by escaping from a submerged coffin. Before a crowd of 10,000 on the banks of the icy Red River at 2:30 p.m., Dean greeted his audience sporting a wet suit, with a coffin, chains and handcuffs in tow. Days before the event, Dean joked that this would be his "farewell performance." Little did he realize how close he would come to fulfilling his off-the-cuff jest.

Dean was handcuffed, chained and laid into the coffin for his ceremonial burial/escape. The lid was nailed shut and the entire coffin wrapped in chains. The coffin, lifted by a crane, hovered above the Red River and was at last lowered into what might have become Dean's watery grave.

 

Red River Submerged CoffinDean inhaled a final deep breath of air as the coffin hit the surface of the freezing river. Unexpectedly, the coffin did not submerge as anticipated. Three quarters of the coffin filled with water, forming an air pocket around Dean's head. Wasting precious air and time, Dean felt it prudent to take another breath to ensure his success. As Dean emptied his lungs of all air, the crane lurched and freezing water completely flooded the coffin's interior. Dean sucked in as much air as he could in those few seconds available to him before he was completely submerged.

Immediately, Dean realized he would not have enough air to complete the escape. His belief in never panicking under any circumstances was tested at this moment. Fear would mean death. While Dean has no qualms about challenging the Grim Reaper, he had no desire to succumb to Death that day. Dean lifted his hands to his goggles and entered a meditative state, knowing that eventually he would be pulled up from the river. He slipped farther and farther away from a state of consciousness, and entered a void.

Red River Submerged CoffinThree and a half minutes passed. There were those in the audience who now held their breath in fear. They sensed something was amiss. The coffin was pulled to the surface. Half a minute ticked by as the chains were removed and lid pried off. Dean was pulled from the coffin -- his skin was blue and not a breath was detected. He had been without air for more than four minutes and had asphyxiated. Paramedics quickly administered oxygen as they loaded Dean in an ambulance and whisked him away to the Health Sciences Centre. In the ambulance, Dean regained a semblance of consciousness before falling asleep.

Red River Submerged CoffinWhile the escape did not proceed as intended, Dean was very grateful for being given the opportunity to learn. Aside from technique and cautionary process, Dean gained a respect for the environment and a respect for life that he might not have otherwise been gifted with had he succeeded. Dean discovered that in a life threatening predicament, he would not panic. Dean concluded he was given another chance at life and from that moment forward, vowed to become the Greatest Escape Artist of all time. After all, for Dean, what should a coffin symbolize but an escape from death and a rebirth into a new life?

   
 

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