Imagine the scenario; having just taken that first leap of faith, hurling yourself into thin air from a platform only attached to a thick piece of rubber band. The sensation of falling is terrifying but exhilarating, then just as the band begins to slow your descent and the anticipated stopping point is reached there is a horrendous ‘crack’. Instead of finding yourself hanging in mid-air you realise you are plummeting towards the ground, not the adventure travel experience you were anticipating.
This maybe the stuff of nightmares but it was exactly the situation that a young Australian recently found herself in whilst jumping in Zambia. The only difference was she was plunging towards the crocodile infested Zambezi River, small comfort! This was ultimately fortunate as she survived the ordeal and was later evacuated to South Africa for treatment.
“Bungee jumping is generally a safe activity”
The company involved has unsurprisingly been vocal in expressing their apologies and in defence of their safety record for conducting bungee jumping at Victoria Falls. This was apparently their first accident in 150,000 jumps and the tourism minister felt so compelled to reassure visitors that he took the plunge himself. Describing Victoria Falls jump as a “viable operation” and the incident a “one-off” shortly after taking the famous jump himself.
Bungee jumping is generally a safe activity; there have been a few fatalities usually due to equipment failure. There is the possibility of secondary injury; increased upper body intravascular pressure due to the recoil action. There is risk of whiplash injury and in at least one case even a broken neck, recently there has also been some evidence of occasional stroke.
This post is not intended to be alarmist and certainly not to discourage anybody from enjoying this activity, but perhaps a little advice about choosing a provider. There is an inherent risk involved in adventure travel activities; it is part of the adrenalin ‘high’ without the percieved risk the excitement is decreased.
Cases of serious injury or worse are rare. Several million people have jumped since the activity was ‘founded’ in 1979 when jumpers illegally ‘bungeed’ off Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol, England.
It could be argued that ‘bungee jumping’ was invented as a test of manhood by tribal members on the Pentecost Island of Vanuatu using vines tied to a makeshift wooden platform.
Thankfully equipment and safety has been significantly improved for commercial purpose and most companies have excellent reputations. There is not a single regulatory body which ensures global safety standards are adhered to, though some countries do have their own. There is sometimes an association which require members to meet safety criteria to obtain certification. This ensures suitable equipment is being employed, maintained correctly and that supervisors have received adequate training.
There does not appear to be any consolidated list but if seeking out a suitable activity provider look for some official accreditation. This is not only relevant to bungee jumping but any commercial adventure travel provider, if certified they will almost certainly display it prominently on their promotional material.
If in a less developed country which is unlikely to have any form of regulation stick with companies recommended by other travellers. Read reviews where possible, use companies recommended by tour operators or even your hotel. Speak to other travellers that have done the activity you are interested in, pay particular attention to how impressed they were with the ‘professionalism’ of the company involved.
“Care of equipment is of paramount importance”
Before paying out any money take a look around the set-up where possible, do the employees instil confidence, are they at least clean and reasonably tidy, do they seem professional? This may seem a bit harsh as this kind of activity attracts ‘free spirits. However you will be entrusting your welfare to them, if they look like they take care of themselves it is more likely they maintain their equipment properly.
Attempt to see how the equipment is stored, ropes should be tidily coiled and kept in a dry location. Any harnesses, strapping, anklets are stored out of the elements and appear clean without any fraying. Kayaks even inner tubes are stored tidily and not just dumped all around the site. Care of equipment is of paramount importance; your life will depend on it.
Regardless of the adventure travel activity bungee jumping, climbing, canyoning or kayaking amongst others, ensure the equipment appears to fit the task and is in a good state of repair. Helmets are particularly important for any activity where risk of falling or rocks falling from above is a potential hazard. Do not be afraid to ask for an item you believe is required or needs exchanging, you are the client and a reputable company will want to ensure you feel confident.
‘High risk’ activities and the adrenaline high they can provide are worth seeking out and at times overcoming their associated anxiety. Do not let reports of rare accidents spoil your enjoyment, many people after their first jump whether it be attached to a piece of elastic or floating beneath parachute silk find it is the start of a lifetime affair with adrenaline sports.
Don’t think too much, just do it!
1. Don’t inform the supervisor you have put a little weight on but only weigh 50kg when it is closer to twice that!
2. Bungee jumping is a bit like a tattoo not advisable first thing in the morning after a late night partying hard.
3. Don’t wear your best underwear.
4. Screaming is not only acceptable when jumping it is positively encouraged to the point of being compulsory.
5. Eat a light lunch.