Surviving bridge plunge nearly impossible

A San Francisco man who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge on March 9 and was pulled out of the water alive beat tough odds.

The man is believed to be the 28th person to live out of approximately 1,300 attempts during the iconic span’s 70-year history — a survival rate of roughly 2 percent — according to Paul Muller of the Bridge Rail Foundation, a group advocating for a suicide barrier on the bridge.

The man, who has not been identified by authorities, plunged off the east railing before alerted rescue authorities could stop him from jumping, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Bunger.

U.S. Coast Guard officials rescued the unconscious man, who was transferred to the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.

The man is in his mid-40s and from The City, Bunger said.

Citing confidentiality, officials would not provide an update on the medical status of the jumper.

Neither the Marin County Coroner’s Office, which handles the vast majority of bridge deaths, nor the Contra Costa County coroner has a record of a person dying this month from a Golden Gate Bridge jump, officials with the agencies said.

Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes listed a litany of injuries that occur upon impact, including lacerated aortas, spleens, livers and kidney; broken hips, splintered ribs, shattered vertebra and water-filled lungs.

A 1967 study of 169 Golden Gate Bridge suicides found only 5 percent died from drowning and not as a result of impact trauma, according to a 1975 report published in The Western Journal of Medicine.

Someone falling from the 220-foot-high bridge hits the water at about 75 mph, according to that report.

Any survivors of the high-speed impact are exposed to violent ocean conditions — a result of volatile winds from the north and south that create large waves and swells of activity — said Lauren Kolumnik of the Coast Guard.

San Francisco resident Kevin Hines is one of the few who have lived to talk about the harrowing descent. Hines, who said he suffers from bipolar disorder, leapt from the bridge in 2000 when he was 19 years old.

Two of his vertebra shattered upon impact, lacerating his lower organs, including his intestines and stomach. He was in hospitals and a psychiatric ward rehabbing from his injuries for eight weeks, and it was nearly two years before his back was pain-free — although he still gets intense flare-ups aboard planes.

“People have this illusion, myself included, that you’re just going to splash peacefully into the water,” said Hines, who now travels the country as a motivational speaker. “My doctors told me it was more like hitting a brick wall.”

wreisman@examiner.com

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