Bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls Bridge has been on your bucket list for years. But as you look down, from high over the water, this lifelong dream feels like it may be your last. Someone yells, “jump!” So you do. Now, you’re falling. And as you fall, you’re speeding up. What if the bungee cord snaps?
If you want to try bungee jumping, remember that after you jump off into the middle of (gulp) nothing, you’ll be speeding down to Earth at almost 10 m/s2 (32 ft/s2). And that’s before the bungee cord stretches.
Then, there’s more than gravity affecting your body. As the cord stretches, it creates tension, or an upward force. And the tension increases until it’s greater than the force of gravity.
So, you might be wondering, has anyone survived when the bungee cords snapped? If a jumper gets hurt, how bad is it? What can you do to ensure your safety before you jump?
Bungee jumping is like skydiving through the air. Except you start closer to the Earth, and you’re relying on the equipment, and people running the jump site, to keep you safe.
Step 1. Jump with experts
Before you pay for the jump, or sign a liability form, take a look at the facility, and get all your questions answered. What training and experience do the staff have? Are the equipment and bungee cords inspected, and maintained? How often?
And if something goes wrong, is there a Plan B for emergencies? Also, make sure that the jump deck is permanently anchored to the ground, not a temporary platform. And make sure the cord won’t pass over sharp edges, abrasive surfaces, or corners.
These can eventually cut, break, or damage the cord. If you can, watch someone else jump. Was the jumpmaster around all the time, in case of trouble? And did they have a clear view of the jumper?
Step 2: Be honest about your weight
Almost all bungee jumping facilities require that jumpers weigh 40-136 kg (90-300 lbs). So, as you’re preparing to jump, the jumpmaster will ask how much you weigh. Or, they might make you step on a scale to check.
The jump master will choose which size cord to use, based on your weight. So this is not the right time to shave a few pounds off.
Step 3: Check the bungee cords
Look carefully for cracks, as they increase the chance that a cord will fail. Just ask Erin Langworthy. When she jumped from the Victoria Falls bridge, high above the Zambezi River, the cords snapped in two. She had to swim with her feet tied together, and free the cord when it caught on rocks.
Step 4: Follow the safety rules
When you’re stretching, fastening, or releasing hooks, wear protective eyewear. Bungee cords have hooks on them, and a rebounding hook is dangerous. And don’t overstretch a bungee cord. It can cause the cords or the hooks to fail, or a dangerous rebound. Oh, there’s another thing too. Make sure the cord is the right length. If it’s too long, you could do a high-speed faceplant. That’s not the kind of impression you want to make.
Step 5: Make sure there’s a first aid kit handy
OK, so most people survive bungee jumping. But injuries are a lot more common than you might realize. You might think that the bungee cord pulling on your ankle is the only threat you’ll face. But think again, because you’re daring other injuries to happen.
When the elastic cord suddenly jerks you upward, it causes fluid to flow to your head, which results in very high blood pressure inside the blood vessels in your eyes. Your retina is the thin layer of cells at the back of your eye that directly connects to your brain. And your conjunctiva is the thin mucous lining over your eyes. They can both be hurt by the high pressure bungee jumping causes.
It could impair your vision, you could see spots, or have hemorrhages. The good news is, these injuries are usually temporary. As your body is pulled back upward by the bungee cords, the extreme forces could injure the vertebrae of your spine and your spinal cord.
We’re talking about broken bones, herniated discs, and even quadriplegia. And your neck is at risk, too. There have been times when the bungee cord accidentally got tangled around a jumper’s neck. This can cut off the blood flow between the heart and the brain, or strangle the jumper. So be prepared for injuries.
Step 6: Jump over water
The safest place to do a bungee jump might be over water. That way, if the cord snaps… you can swim, right? If you do fall in the water, hopefully you won’t find yourself swimming with crocodiles.
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