Editor’s note: The following story examines what happens to the body in a fall from the Coronado Bridge. The details are graphic. Reader discretion is advised.

Human bodies do not go gently into the San Diego Bay from a height of 200 feet.

The body picks up speed in a fall from the Coronado Bridge — reaching perhaps 77 mph — and suddenly decelerates as it hits the water. The injuries can be similar to those from a high-speed car accident:

  • The ribs, the spine and the pelvis can break, lacerating organs like the heart and liver with shards of broken bone. The neck, collarbone and other bones can break.
  • The heart can whip back and forth, tearing itself from arteries. The lungs, normally pumped full of air with every breath, can collapse.
  • Internal bleeding can fill the body cavity with blood.

One study of 100 people who leaped to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge found that most died of these types of injuries.

Three other outcomes are even more horrific: Decapitation, dismemberment and drowning.

In one recent case, a woman jumped from the bridge and hit a pylon on her way down. Her right leg sheered off. The Harbor Police reunited it with her body after a lieutenant aboard the USS Tawana noticed both the leg and its owner floating in the bay.

In another recent case, a man hit a pylon as he fell to the water. He lost both forearms and his skull cracked open, expelling his brain.

In some recent cases, autopsies found that Coronado Bridge suicide victims fought to breathe. They were sometimes discovered with froth in their mouths, evidence that they lived long enough to drown.

“Maybe they were incapacitated, and they couldn’t swim if they wanted to. Or the ribs being broken would have decreased their ability to breathe normally,” said deputy medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas.

As for the time that passes until death comes, “drowning is not instantaneous,” Lucas said. “It can take minutes.”


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