All of them, the white-haired grandmother, the nervous mother and the high school sweetheart, waited at the airport for the returning hero.

Steven Trotter, 24, who on Sunday morning plunged 180 feet down Niagara falls in souped-up pickle barrels, was late. He'd already missed one flight, and now the 6:30 p.m. plane was a half-hour behind schedule.

After a while, family and friends from his home town of Barrington, R.I., sat down. Directly above them hung a computerized poster, designed by a friend, that read, "Our Hero! Steven Trotter! Victory Over Niagara Falls/ August 18, 1985/ We Love You."

Some examined the front page of the local paper, which displayed the daredevil's photo prominently. Others recalled his early flirtations with danger, which included jumping into slimy water and eating worms.

Finally, about 7:15, passengers flowed through the gate. Trotter's two blond sisters, looking even blonder in the bright TV lights, stood together with champagne glasses. "Now I'm getting nervous," his mother, Mary, told a friend.

And then there he was, a big red lipstick smear on his right cheek, wearing a pair of tight blue jeans and chomping on a wad of gum. He hugged some, slapped others on the back and lifted his former high school girlfriend in the air.

Then he focused on the crowd. "See that scratch?" he said, lifting his arm to reveal a tiny scab. "Big scratch. That injury and a scraped knee were all the hospital discovered."

The capsule, a five-year project that cost him $6,200 to construct, had worked perfectly. "It was like the best roller coaster ride you had when you were a 10-year-old," he had said immediately after his adventure.

Surrounded by cameras and reporters, he informally answered a barrage of questions about his future. "I'm gonna have a couple of beers with my friends and lay back," he said.

When asked about future stunts, he said, "Not in front of my mother." A TV reporter wheedled him, sneaking her microphone in gently and suggesting he tell only her, but he remained tight-lipped.

There has been nationwide attention for Trotter, only the seventh person -- and the first American in 28 years -- to survive the plunge, and it is just what he wanted. He painted "Johnny Carson's No. 1" on his capsule in hopes of landing an appearance on "The Tonight Show."

Carson's people phoned him the night of his feat, but Trotter told them he was too tired to discuss it. He has already been on "Good Morning America," acquired an agent, and discussed plans for a Timex commercial. (He attached a watch to each end of his capsule and found them tattered but ticking by the end of his trip.)

Trotter's capsule also sported a "Support Reagan" bumper sticker. But the daredevil saved the biggest hype for himself. He hopes his feat gained the attention of Hollywood, where he wants to be a stunt man.

Stunts are not new to him.

In 1979, he jumped more than 100 feet from a bridge, landing safely in the water. He was fined $50. For his Niagara Falls exploit, he faces a maximum $500 fine for "performing a feat or stunt in the park," according to Constable John Clark of the Niagara Parks Police.

Clark picked Trotter up after he cascaded over the brink of Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the river about 8:05 p.m. "I think the first thing he said was, 'I made it,' " Clark recalled. Police seized the capsule, which they will hold until Trotter's Aug. 28 trial. His capsule, 16 feet long by six feet in diameter and covered by eight tractor trailer inner tubes, is composed of two pickle barrels end to end. It is laminated with 12 layers of fiberglass, and six layers of heavy nylon cloth, and lined with the same foam used to transport nuclear warheads. Inside, Trotter's oxygen was supplied by two scuba tanks, and he also brought two underwater flashlights and a two-way radio on his voyage.

Friends videotaped the stunt from both the American and Canadian sides of the fall.

With a hot video and fast fame, Trotter is experiencing the trappings of celebrityhood. "There were so many people in my room last night that I threw them out. I went nuts."

Soon he plans to head for Los Angeles. In the meantime, he will be a local hero. But to his family he is still the irreverent son. As he got ready to leave the airport, he looked at his mother and said with a smile, "You should see my shorts. You've gotta clean them when we get home."