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The woman who survived a jump off the San Diego-Coronado Bridge this morning during a police chase is now part of a tiny and exclusive club: those who leaped and lived to tell about it.

About 255 people have jumped off the bridge over the last 40 years, but only a dozen or so lived. The key to survival seems to be an immediate rescue to prevent drowning, a surprisingly common cause of death for bridge suicides.

In today’s case, authorities pulled an apparently suicidal woman out of the bay after she jumped from the bridge. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, she had led authorities on a high-speed chase that took her from Coronado to near Sea World and then back again to the bridge.

I wrote a two-part series last year about the little-known death toll from Coronado bridge suicides. The bridge, which turns 40 this summer, is among the most deadly in North America.

When the stories were published in May 2009, the total number of known suicides from the bridge stood at 236. As of early last month, the number had risen to 242. (More up-to-date statistics weren’t immediately available today.)

Unlike several other communities with bridges that attract the suicidal, San Diego and Coronado have not considered installing a barrier to prevent deaths.

For those who make fatal jumps, death is horrific and, in some cases, far from instantaneous. Many of those who jump die not directly from their injuries — akin those from jumping off a building — but instead succumb to drowning.

Those who survive are left with ravaged bodies of their own — broken bones, collapsed lungs, pierced organs.

One 26-year-old schizophrenic man who survived a jump in 1988 was “pulverized,” a doctor said.

But the man, Brian Black, survived. He recovered and went on to become a mental-health advocate. (He died last year in a car accident.)

As in today’s case, Black most likely survived his 1988 fall because rescuers were on the scene immediately. Navy SEALS conducting maneuvers near the bridge pulled him out of the water.

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

— RANDY DOTINGA

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