Bungy Jump: To My Execution

In Thailand, jungle bungee jump offers thrill of life _ and death

June 11, 2003


PHUKET, Thailand (AP) _ Standing on a ledge high above a lake in southwestern Thailand with my legs bound together, it was hard not to feel I was on the way to my own execution.

I was about to experience the near-death thrill of hurling myself off a 54-meter-high (177-foot-high) bungee jumping crane.

"Don't look down, just take a deep breath and do it," said the man whose job it was to help me.

The fall lasts just a few seconds, so I wanted to savor the moment. But taking in just how high up

I was _ and how far down I was supposed to go _ nearly made me ill.

Half an hour before, I'd come to Phuket Island's Jungle Bungy Jump to take the plunge for the first time in my life. It was the culmination of a two-week trip to southwestern Thailand I'd taken with my girlfriend.

We'd already spent five days scuba-diving in the Andaman Sea's spectacular Similan and Surin islands, where turquoise waters teem with schools of tropical fish and manta rays swirl around boulders.

At Khao-Lak, a small town on Thailand's southwestern coast, we'd spent days lounging on palm-fringed beaches, devouring spicy Thai chicken in green curry and banana milkshakes, and treating ourselves to foot massages that last an hour.

Phuket, farther south, was a too crowded for our taste. We wanted to do something else.

I'd been hang-gliding before. Skydiving, too. Bungee jumping, I thought, could top them all.

Approaching the jump site in a taxi from our seaside hotel, my driver pointed out the yellow bungee jump crane jutting up from the forest. It didn't appear too high _ at least not from the ground.

My fantasies of an exhilarating fall quickly waned. I announced it wasn't worth it.

On a wall beside the jump-site was collection of photographs of people making the jump. Many bounded off the bungee platform as if they were springing off an Olympic diving board. The pictures showed them soaring through the air with incredible abandon _ arms stretched out stiffly _ from an enormous height.

I looked back up at Jungle Bungy's crane and wondered if the one in the pictures was the same.

It was.

Nobody behind the counter was egging me on, though. Bungee jumping is not for the faint-hearted, and deaths do occur. I was assured none had here.

I paid a US$35 fee and sat down as both my shins were bound together and connected _ securely I hoped _ to a thick, elastic bungee cord.

I was ordered to hop over to the crane and get on the jump-lift _ metal cage you're supposed to leap from. It's hard to move with your legs tied together, and I did so awkwardly.
Seconds later, we began a slow ascent, above the trees, and far, far above the lake.

When the jump-lift came to a halt, I inched forward and stood on the ledge. Looking down, I felt dizzy, and I could feel the rush of adrenaline.

It was utterly silent. Far below, I could see the specks of a dozen people gathered to view the spectacle. I contemplated excuses _ any way out. Below, I could see my girlfriend waving.

I tried to clear my head and asked my chaperone to repeat the instructions.

"Just put your hands in the air and jump as high as you can. Aim for that mountain," he said, pointing into the distance.

I pictured the jumpers I'd seen in the photographs, mighty and confident. My knees felt weak.

I mustered all my courage, but there wasn't much left. Instead of jumping, I merely stepped off the platform _ and fell.

What followed was sheer terror.

I wanted to grab hold of something, but there was nothing but air. I let loose with a scream.

I was upside down, plummeting rapidly toward the lake. My muscles froze with fear as the horizon wheeled in front of me. My only thought: Was the bungee cord going to break?

Seconds later, I felt a tug. The bungee cord stretched and grabbed hold just above the surface of the lake, yanking me back into the air.

After a few unpleasant bounces, I noticed a man sticking out a pole for me to grab. Hanging upside down, I took hold of it and was soon laid gently onto a cushion beside the lake as the cords around my legs were unfastened.

I thought I'd be exhilarated, and like skydiving, would be eager to clean out my wallet for another chance.

Instead, I felt I'd been brought back from the dead. For several minutes, I couldn't move.

"Again?" somebody said, laughing.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.