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Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Golden Gate Bridge: Where Jumpers Go To Die

     Bridges have always been natural magnets for suicide, but not all bridges qualify. The number one bridge in the world for suicides is the Golden Gate Bridge, sitting astride San Francisco Bay between San Francisco and Marin County. The appeal of the Golden Gate Bridge cannot be understated.

     "It's what I like to call an aura of grandeur. It's a magnificent setting,"San Francisco professor of psychiatry Jerome Motto told the Associated Press in 1996 when campaigning to get a suicide barrier built on the bridge. "Some persons are very, very sensitive to appearance, style, and so on. With the certainty, the sort of aesthetic appeal, along with the quickness, and [alleged] painlessness, I think that is one important reason why the Golden Gate Bridge is used…I talked to one person who went to the bridge to shoot himself, and when I asked why did he go to the bridge, his reply was 'what a beautiful place to die.'"…

     More people leap from the bridge than are known to have jumped. An individual may only have been known to leap because his or her body was found later in the water or on the rocks. A suicide victim who was seen to have gone off the bridge may never be found. Because of the large gaps in the loss of bodies and some people slipping over the rails in the dark, the unofficial yearly average of fifty suicides is difficult to confirm….

     By 2003, upward of 1,300 people were said to have died from throwing themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge, a yearly rate of nearly forty-three people a year. But one Coast Guard coxswain who works closely with others on the bridge recently told the media that the yearly average is, incredibly, closer to three hundred. [In 2000, Kevin Hines jumped off the bridge and survived the 240 foot fall with a broken ankle and several crushed vertebrae.]

     These deaths are not painless. The four-second falls end in fatalities that the local coroner reports are caused by "multiple blunt-force injuries," which The New Yorker's Tad Friend writes, "euphemizes the devastation. Many people don't look down first, and so those who jump from the north end of the bridge hit the land instead of the water they saw farther out. Jumpers who hit the water do so at about seventy-five miles an hour and with a force of fifteen thousand pounds per square inch. Eighty-five percent of them suffer broken ribs, which rip inward and tear through the spleen, the lungs, and the heart. Vertebrae snap, and the liver often ruptures." [By 2014, an estimated 1,600 people had ended their lives by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2017, the authorities constructed a stainless steel net to deter suicide attempts.]

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004

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