Friday, February 17, 2012

Bungee Jumping: A Foreseeable Risk?

For those who regularly follow global news, many will recalling hearing of the harrowing case of Erin Langworthy, 22, an Australian citizen, who in January of this year was on holiday on New Year's Eve when she took the 111-meter (364 feet) bungee jump from the Victoria Falls bridge above the river, which borders Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately, her bungee cord snapped as she dropped from the bridge, plunging her head-first into the crocodile-infested waters of the Zambezi River. Nevertheless, she managed to swim to the Zimbabwe side of the river, where she was able to get out of the water.

Subsequently, Zambian Tourism Minister Given Lubinda went to great effort to assure tourists that the bungee jumping equipment was safe. While that may be comforting to those who purchase batteries and discover that one doesn't work, jumping 350+ feet not being 100% sure you are tethered correctly is much, much different.

Now, let's fast-forward to yesterday (February 16), when the owners of a South African bungee jumping company in Johannesburg and two of their employees were found guilty of culpable homicide.

This followed a 2010 incident in which Jo-Ann Samuels, 29, was killed during a tandem bungee jump with her husband, Hendrik Samuels, 30, after a rope malfunctioned and slipped. Jo-Ann, who landed on rocks, was killed instantly, and her husband was seriously injured. As a result, the company, Big Swing, fined the parent company, Vuka Marketing, R300 000 (US$38,000) and fined the two employees US$12,666 each, in addition to suspending their operations.

Vuka Market was also ordered to pay Hendrik Samuels US$15,000 within a week, which is a scant amount compared to the experience he endured and the loss of his wife.

COMMENT: In his ruling, Judge Andre Lambrecht urged that there is a pressing need to better regulate adventure sports activities such as bungee jumping, pointing out that one death is too many. Commenting further, the judge stressed: "Current measures are woefully inadequate, and these kinds of sports should not even be allowed in the country," he said, adding that signing an indemnity form before a jump was "not worth the paper it is printed on."

Bungee jumping injuries may be divided into those that occur secondary to equipment mishap or tragic accident, and those that occur regardless of safety measures. In the first instance, injury can happen if the safety harness fails, the cord elasticity is miscalculated, or the cord is not properly connected to the jump platform.

In 1986 Michael Lush died of multiple injuries after bungee jumping for a stunt on a BBC television program, and in 1997, Laura Patterson, one of a 16-member professional bungee jumping team, died of massive cranial trauma when she jumped from the top level of the Louisiana Superdome and collided head-first into the concrete-based playing field.

Erin Langworthy, an Australian woman was plunged into the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls, where she nearly drowned with her feet still tied together after her bungee rope snapped during a jump.

Injuries that occur despite safety measures generally relate to the abrupt rise in upper body vascular pressure during bungee cord recoil. Eyesight damage is the most frequently reported complication. In one case, a 26-year-old woman's eyesight was still impaired after 7 months.

Whiplash injuries may occur as the jumper is jolted on the bungee cord and in at least one case, this has led to quadriplegia secondary to a broken neck. Very serious injury can also occur if the jumper's neck or body gets entangled in the cord.

More recently, carotid artery dissection leading to a type of stroke after bungee jumping has also been described. All of these injuries have occurred in fit and healthy people in their twenties and thirties. Bungee jumping has also been shown to increase stress and decrease immune function.

If, despite this posting, you still feel compelled to experience the feeling of bungee jumping, I would suggest referring you to Clint Eastwood's notable detective character, who would simply ask punks in films, "Do you feel lucky?"

Needless to say, bungee jumping is not recommended for adventure-seeking seniors, for obvious reasons.

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