As Erin Langworthy (22) prepared for her 111 metre jump, with friends watching in support, no-one could have predicted the incredible series of events which would follow. The rush of adrenalin as she stepped off the bridge and dropped down into the gorge below must have turned to horror as, at the limit of the jump, just as the bungee cord had stretched to its maximum length and was beginning to recoil, the cord amazingly snapped, plunging the plucky adventurer into the Zambezi river below, the fast current quickly taking her downstream towards the fearsome rapids for which the river is renowned.
Showing incredible presence of mind and physical determination, Ms Langworthy managed to swim to the south bank of the river, no mean achievement considering her feet were still tied together and attached to a significant length of heavy bungee cord. At one point she even had to dive down to untangle the cord, which had become trapped between rocks, and she managed to safely get herself to the shore. Luckily the speed of her fall had been cushioned somewhat by the bungee cord before it broke, and her drop into the river below was only about 30-40m, and she amazingly sustained only relatively minor internal injuries.
Ms Langworthy was taken to an emergency medical facility in Victoria Falls and later flown to Johannesburg, where she spent a week in hospital recovering from her injuries before being allowed to return home to Australia. Video footage of her amazing ordeal was shown in TV interviews in Australia, and soon became an internet sensation, with over 1,000,000 people watching the video of her jump on You Tube within 24 hours of it being posted, and her story being shown on news channels across the world. Never missing the opportunity to sensationalise a story, the rapids of the Zambezi quickly became reported around the world as ‘crocodile infested', when there are in fact very few, if any, crocodiles in this section of the river!
The Victoria Falls Bungee has been operating, without prior incident, for 17 years and has conducted over 150,000 jumps. It is one of the most popular adrenalin activities in Victoria Falls, which has a reputation for outstanding adventure activities, including the famous white-water rafting below the Falls. Like any commercial bungee jump, the operation is run to strict safety levels, with well trained staff in close attendance, rigorous safety procedures and regular checks on equipment.
Following the incident, the bungee operation suspended operations whilst independent safety experts assessed the causes of the accident. The internationally qualified safety auditors who audited and inspected the operations system and equipment concluded that safety procedures and equipment complied with international industry adopted bungee jumping standards.
Working together with the safety auditors the Victoria Falls Bungee company have introduced new procedures to improve these safety standards. With particular regard to the management and handling of bungee cords, a safety auditor expressed the opinion that the standards now employed are unparalleled in the industry, and in all probability industry leading.
The broken bungee cord was sent for forensic analysis and testing by a team of experts based in South Africa, led by two Professors of Structural Engineering. In their investigations the team, amongst other things, concluded that the batch of rubber used in the manufacture of the failed bungee cord was not as strong as it should have been.
Following this analysis, the Victoria Falls Bungee operation has adopted newer rubber cords which are now stronger than recommended by the ‘Code of Practice for Bungee Jumping'. To ensure the strength and integrity rubber samples from future cords will be tested before being put into service. In addition thorough regular inspections and load-testing of the bungee cords will take place to confirm their strength and bi-annual independent safety audits of equipment and procedures will continue.
A company representative said: "The incident was a huge shock to us and thank God that Erin was not more seriously hurt, her courage and presence of mind was amazing. Since the incident we have revisited every part of the bungee safety system and implemented a number of new tests and inspections which will minimise the chances of this happening again. As a result we can say with some confidence that there has never been a better or safer time to bungee jump at Victoria Falls".
The Victoria Fall Bungee remains as one of the most incredible, and safest, locations in the world in which to undertake this activity. In a show of support for the operation and its safety, Zambian Tourism minister Given Lubinda subsequently bungeed off the bridge, whilst taking the opportunity of wishing Ms Langworthy a swift recovery and inviting her to return soon to Zambia and continue her holiday. He even offered to Bungee jump with her, but it is not known if Ms Langworthy is keen to try the jump a second time.
The author of this article Tony Peel, is an authority on Victoria Falls. His website is probably the most comprehensive website on this Natural Wonder of the World. Take a look at it here Victoria Falls Guide you will be amazed at the sheer volume of information.
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