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    Cliff Jumping: Things to Know

    Cliff Jumping: Things to Know

    Photo By Pamela Doty | By R.J. Garren read more read more



    Story by Pamela Doty 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Water Safety

    Thrill seeking from jumping off of a cliff, bridge, or any structure is something that leaves some people with life-long struggles from their injuries and kills others. The many who have lost loved ones to jumping into open water (lakes, rivers, ponds, etc.) know that you don’t have to jump from very far to land badly and drown. Before you take a leap into open water, these are some things you should know.

    When I was young, I was much more likely to take risks. Now I know that the tendency for teens and young adults to engage in high-risk behaviors is often attributed to an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain is responsible for decision-making, planning, and reasoning. Some researchers report that this portion of the brain is not fully developed until approximately the age of 25 and it develops more as we experience risks.

    Even if I had known that fact when I was young, it probably would not have stopped me from doing risky things. However, I was told something about seat belts when I was a young driver that convinced me to wear one and I’ve survived a few car accidents since then. They asked if I thought I could stop myself by putting my arms out after running full-speed nonstop into a brick wall. Then they showed me an image of a car damaged from hitting a brick wall at speeds less than I could run. I knew that a car was much stronger than me so that analogy stuck in my head. Fortunately, I didn’t have to run full speed into a brick wall to prove to myself that wearing a seat belt was a smart and easy thing to do.

    The speed or velocity of jumping into the water from some of the heights that people typically jump from is considerably faster than the rate that the average person can run. It’s estimated that a jump into the water from only 20 feet will result in hitting the water at 25 miles-per-hour. In the process of learning to tube, ski, or wakeboard, most people figure out that hitting the water at high speeds feels like hitting a concrete or brick wall.

    Anyone being towed by a boat should wear a life jacket designed to withstand high-impact speeds, for that kind of activity because it will help protect them from a fall off a tube, wakeboard, etc. Most water-related fatality victims would have survived if they were wearing a life jacket, but for those who jump from any height into open water, wearing a life jacket might only help rescuers find their body.

    A simplified scientific explanation for causes of death from falling at high speeds is that the water molecules on the surface can’t be displaced fast enough to create a soft landing. The pressures caused by breaking the surface at high speed is what makes water act more like a solid, non-moving surface so that’s why it actually feels like concrete. Even slapping the water’s surface fast with an open hand demonstrates how this can sting on a very small scale. Now imagine how that would feel at a higher rate of speed on other more sensitive and valuable parts of your body. Olympic diving pools have water spraying onto the surface or compressed air blowing to create bubbles and break up the tension of the water’s surface. That helps to decrease the chances of injury to divers.

    “Diving, jumping, or swinging from trees, bridges, or other structures which cross or are adjacent to project waters” administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is prohibited by law. The National Park Service (NPS) has a cliff jumping prohibition poster depicting real pictures that friends took of a friend jumping into the water from 70 feet, which is about the height of a seven-story building. The NPS estimated that the person hit the water going 46 miles per hour. They reportedly recovered the body at a depth of 273 feet.

    Most people who jump from various heights into the water are not trained on how to enter the water. Even if you enter feet-first in a straight, vertical line, and like a pencil, that impact can be strong enough to compress your spine, break bones, or give you a concussion. The force of the water can knock people unconscious on impact, and even if you survive, you may drown.

    Professionally-trained cliff jumpers who participate in high diving events go through all kinds of training to improve their skills. Plus, they have professional, rescue, scuba divers stationed in the water because even professional cliff jumpers often suffer from bruises, dislocated joints, broken bones, compressed spine, injured discs, paralysis, and death.

    Another thing to consider is that even if you enter the water with the best form, you could hit something underwater like a rock, log, tree branch, even a fish, or the bottom that could seriously injure or kill you. At a lake near me, a guy jumped into the water and was impaled by a stick that went through his rectum. Miraculously he survived, but I imagine his life was changed forever.

    If the running into a brick wall analogy helped me figure out it was a good idea to wear a seat belt, then maybe cliff-jumping thrill seekers should consider that running at any speed into a brick wall would be considerably less speed than what they’re encountering on a typical jump into the water.

    Even if you have risked your life jumping off a cliff and survived before, that doesn’t mean you will survive or go home uninjured the next time. Water can be fun and refreshing, but needs to be respected because it could just be waiting to claim your life.



    Date Taken: 08.26.2020
    Date Posted: 08.26.2020 23:12
    Story ID: 376879
    Location: US

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