Don’t Jump!

Exactly what happens when a person leaps off the Golden Gate Bridge?

  1. In 1996, I jumped off a 350-foot-high bridge over a river gorge. I wanted to experience what it would be like to leap, head first, from a lethal height and hurtle toward my death. The death part itself I had no interest in experiencing—in fact, a fairly strong interest in not experiencing—so I had a bungee cord wrapped around my ankles. After the initial terror and involuntary-scream portion of the event, the fall was quite enjoyable. I didn’t flail or rotate helplessly like people pushed from balconies on TV, but dropped smoothly in dive formation. I felt the way, as a child, I imagined Superman feeling. It led me to believe that jumping off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge would be a lovely way to go.

    I don’t feel that way anymore. This I blame on several people, including Gary Erickson, an investigator at the Marin County, Calif., coroner’s office, where bodies pulled from the water below the Golden Gate Bridge are taken; Richard Snyder, author of a research paper titled “Fatal Injuries Resulting From Extreme Water Impact”; and Herb Lopez, a Golden Gate Bridge safety patrol sergeant.

    In fact, the pointed lack of loveliness involved in a bridge suicide is one of the things Sgt. Lopez uses to dissuade the suicidal individuals he encounters in his job. In response to pressure from San Francisco Suicide Prevention, the Golden Gate Bridge District has safety officers regularly (depending on their workload) patrolling the bridge on scooters and bikes, scanning crowds for pos...

Originally published in Salon, February 2001