Some people think jumping off a bridge is a peaceful way to go. One Marin County, CA, coroner, for example, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005 that there's a persistent myth that it's a "light, airy way to end your life, like going to join the angels." But committing suicide by jumping off a bridge, the coroner says, is "not a pretty death," and he should know: he works in the same county as the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the world's most popular spots for jumping to your death.
So what happens when you jump off a bridge that high? It's nothing like Olympic high diving, regardless of the skill of the jumper. You hit the water at 75 miles per hour, and after that, a surprising number of things could kill you. Read on to find out what jumping off a bridge really does to your body, and just how slim of a chance you'd have of surviving.
If you jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, for example, you’ll likely die from multiple blunt-force injuries. This is the “coroner’s usual verdict,” according to Tad Friend’s 2003 New Yorker feature “Jumpers.” In other words, as John Koopman of the San Francisco Chronicle observes, “you die the same way as someone hit by a car.”
The Golden Gate Bridge makes an excellent “testing ground” for this gruesome topic because so many people (1500+) have fallen or jumped from its 239-foot to 261-foot heights (depending on where they were on the bridge). By comparison, a mere 186-foot freefall is considered to be the “upper survival limits of human tolerance to impact velocity in water.”
Is your death a sure thing? Not exactly, but damn close: a 1968 FAA study on the topic, “Fatal Injuries From Extreme Water Impact,” says that at that time “99.3 percent of falls [from the Golden Gate Bridge] have been fatal.” Needless to say, the physics of the fall haven’t changed since the ‘60s.
Experts agree that your ribs are probably going to break. It happens in about 85 percent of cases involving people who have jumped or fallen from the Golden Gate Bridge. The research says that the impact on the water causes “extensive fractures to the rib cage, usually bilateral and multiple fractures involving every rib.” This happens through sheer force: bodies hit the water “at about seventy-five miles an hour and with a force of fifteen thousand pounds per square inch,” according to the New Yorker.
Rib damage is overwhelmingly common: by comparison, only one-third of cases feature fractured arms or legs and only 15 percent of cases feature fractured vertebrae.
Physics tells us that a body hitting the water at 75 miles per hour will come to a stop… or at least the “outer body” will. Your internal organs, according to John Bateson, author of The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, will “keep going, tearing loose from their connections.”
Since most, if not all, of your rib bones will fracture, you’ll basically have tiny sharp bone fragments inside your body to contend with, too. These jagged bones will rip through the spleen, lungs, heart, and other organs.
Coast Guard officer Ron Wilton has seen the damage firsthand. He told the New Yorker it’s like “someone took an eggbeater to the organs of the body and ground everything up.”
If your injuries from the impact with the water don’t kill you, there’s a chance that you’ll simply drown. Since you hit the water so fast - 75 miles per hour - you plunge pretty deep.
When the Coast Guard pulls your body out, they can actually tell at a glance if you drowned or not. The tell-tale sign? “Frothy mucus bubbles from the nose.” It doesn’t happen that often, however, since most people don’t live long enough to inhale enough water.