San Francisco – Popular for Sailing and Suicide

Published on May 21st, 2013

Tourism is San Francisco’s largest private-sector employer, with more than 16.5 million visitors experiencing the city in 2012. Many of its popular attractions surround the waterfront, with the America’s Cup adding to the activity this summer.

And while the Golden Gate Bridge might be San Francisco’s most notable feature, it is also the most popular suicide destination in the world. People have been known to travel to San Francisco specifically to jump off the bridge, as its height (245 feet) above the water is sufficient for 98% falls to be fatal.

But on Monday (May 20) there was one of the rare failed attempt. Scott Walecka, 56, of Santa Cruz (CA) was taking his 38-foot vessel Animal to San Francisco to prepare for Friday’s Spinnaker Cup race from the city to Monterey when his daughter, 23-year-old Hilary, said she saw a person jump from the bridge shortly before 2 p.m.

Moments later, the pair and sailing friend John Mizell heard a Coast Guard radio call for a jumper in the water near the San Francisco end of the span. Walecka saw the man bobbing underneath a California Highway Patrol helicopter and sailed toward him.

“He was alive and wanted to be rescued,” Walecka said after returning home late Monday. “We threw a life sling out to it. He grabbed on to it, and he was hand-over-hand on the rope to get to the back of the boat.”

That’s when Walecka realized the man’s legs appeared to be broken. The man, who authorities say is 31 and identified as homeless, told the sailors he was from Alabama. The tattooed man was wearing a shirt, shorts and appeared to be in strong physical condition. “He was really fit, really buff,” Walecka said.

Walecka said Mizzel, who is 30 and trained in mountain rescue, talked to the jumper to keep him from going into shock. Walecka said the man didn’t seem capable of saying much, including thank you. “He was just in pure survival mode at that point in time,” Walecka said.

After a fall of four seconds, jumpers hit the water at around 75 mph. Most jumpers die from impact trauma. The few who survive the initial impact generally drown or die of hypothermia in the cold water. – Full report

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