Zambezi nightmare as bungee jump goes wrong

Bungee jumpers like this one in London trust their lives to a single rubber cord © Getty Images

When Erin Langworthy went bungee jumping, she hoped for an adrenaline rush. Instead, after the cord snapped, she found herself fighting for life in the Zambezi river. Was it worth the risk?

Zambia’s tourist board calls it the ‘ultimate adrenaline rush’, where punters ‘leap in to space, free as a bird’, before being saved from swirling waters by a single, rebounding cord.

For Erin Langworthy, however, bungee jumping turned out to be rather too exciting. Falling with her arms outstretched, the 22-year-old tourist waited for the rope to break her fall and bounce her back up towards safety. Instead, it snapped, and she plunged headfirst into the Zambezi river.

Though she blacked out on impact, the icy cold water snapped her back to consciousness. With her feet still tied, and the rope snagging on rocks in the crocodile infested rapids, Erin miraculously swam to safety. She escaped with little more than cuts and bruises.

Other thrill-seekers have not been so lucky. Statistics suggest that one in 500,000 bungee jumps result in death or serious injury. In 2009, Cambridge graduate Rishi Baveja suffered a ruptured spleen, torn liver and collapsed lung when he fell from his bungee harness. Two years earlier, a woman was killed on impact when she fell from a bungee-style ride.

But, compared to some extreme sports, bungee jumping is a walk in the park. BASE jumping, which involves leaping from buildings or cliffs and releasing a parachute just before hitting the ground, has a fatality rate of one in every 2,317 jumps. Fans of cave diving must overcome freezing temperatures, underground mazes and a limited oxygen supply to avoid becoming one of the 500 killed so far in the new and unusual sport.

Only the most committed daredevils, it seems, would attempt such risky pursuits. But even some more conventional activities can be deadly. Horse riding, with its high risk of spinal injuries and broken bones, is statistically one of the most dangerous sports. And with one in 5,000 people killed in traffic accidents every year, few sports come close to matching the hazards of driving.

Dangerous games

For the more careful among us, the idea of jumping from a bridge attached to a tiny cord, risking death for a few seconds of adrenaline, is ridiculous. It is perfectly possible, after all, to lead a fulfilled, exciting and enjoyable life without exposing oneself to the possibility of a watery grave or broken spine. Life is precious. Missing out on a quick thrill every now and again is a small price to pay for preserving it.

It is just that preciousness, others say, that means we should take risks. We only get one shot at life, and should try and get the most excitement, interest and challenge from it as we possibly can. Flying through the air or hurtling down breathtaking mountains may be dangerous, but for extreme sports enthusiasts these things make life rich and meaningful too.

You Decide

  1. Is the experience of bungee jumping worth the risk?
  2. Should dangerous sports like bungee jumping be legal?

Activities

  1. Make a list of three risky sports that you would be prepared to try out, and three that you don’t think are worth the potential injury. Explain your reasons.
  2. Research the life of someone famous for taking risks or attempting dangerous feats. Write a short biography focusing on the motivations for their passion. Do you agree with the reasons for their lifestyle?

Some People Say...

“Live fast, die young.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should this matter to me?
We put ourselves in risky situations every day. And when we expose ourselves to any kind of danger, we make a calculation about how worthwhile the risk is. Thinking about this is an important part of considering what experiences we value, and what we are prepared to sacrifice to have them.
How can I minimise these kind of risks?
Though extreme sports might seem reckless, many enthusiasts are careful about keeping safe. Among skiers, sales of helmets have rocketed, and courses in mountain safety are increasingly popular for those venturingoff-piste.
What about bungee jumping?
Bungee jumping involves putting your safety firmly in the hands of a professional, so the most important thing is choosing a reputable company.

Word Watch

Adrenaline rush
Sometimes, an adrenaline rush is used as a turn of phrase, meaning a thrill of excitement caused by a dangerous experience. But it’s also a literal description of the hormone adrenaline being released from the adrenal gland – a ‘fight or flight’ response which speeds reactions, enhances strength and which causes ‘happy-chemical’ dopamine to be released into the body.
Zambezi
An African river, which flows for 1,600 miles, forming the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Victoria Falls, a large waterfall, is a popular bungee jumping spot on the river.
BASE jumping
A favourite amongst more extreme daredevils, this is a sport that involves jumping off buildings and opening a parachute to break one’s fall. BASE is an acronym for the points enthusiasts can jump from – buildings, antennas, spans, or bridges, and earth.
Off-piste
Pistes are marked slopes, and ‘off-piste’ refers to any ski areas outside the groomed runs set out for most skiers. Off-piste skiing can be risky, as areas are not monitored for risks like avalanches, rocks or trees.

Subjects

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