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On a March day in 1988, a 26-year-old schizophrenic man found himself in the wrong place at the right time.

He had just jumped from the Coronado Bridge to the water 200 feet below — a fall that’s almost always fatal. But Navy SEALS were conducting a maneuver near the bridge and pulled the man out of the water, saving his life.

“He literally jumped into their arms,” recalled the man’s sister, San Diego Port Commissioner Laurie Black.

Now, the man — one of only about a dozen people to survive a leap from the Coronado Bridge — is married and working for a local hospital. He did try to kill himself after the jump from the bridge, but eventually managed to rejoin society, Black said.

He might not have made it. “He really was pulverized by the impact,” said San Diego city medical director Dr. Jim Dunford, who observed the case at the time.

But the man probably landed feet first, reducing the fall’s impact. Research suggests that is the best way to survive a fall.

Black, who declined to identify her brother for privacy reasons, and her parents have since become advocates for mental health. “People don’t want to talk about it,” Black said. “There is still a stigma that still exists about these issues.”

A barrier on the Coronado Bridge might prevent suicides and give mentally ill people like her brother a second chance. But Black, who’s appalled by the failures of the local mental-health system, said it would just be a “Band-Aid.”

The larger goal, she said, should be to “get people the help they need.”

— RANDY DOTINGA

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