The Relative Risks of Bungee Jumping, Skydiving and Ballooning
Skydiving, bungee jumping and ballooning are adventure sports, and all adventure sports contain some risk. Factors affecting the risk include equipment, landings, weather and prior medical conditions. Because the factors influencing the risk are numerous and variable, it is difficult, if not impossible, to calculate the risk involved.
A common concern in adventure sports is equipment. However, equipment failure is rarely a cause of skydiving fatalities. Certainly, there are times when parachutes don’t open, but reasonable skydivers use a reserve parachute. Having both parachutes fail to open is exceptionally rare.
According to the instructors at the Bungee Jumper website, critical injuries and bungee-related deaths usually result from poorly maintained equipment or miscalculations of cord length.
While hot air ballooning seems to be a safe alternative, there are certain risks associated with its equipment too. Overfilling the propane tank can cause fires when the balloon is in the air.
Skydivers run the risk of sprains, dislocations, broken hands or legs, and bumps and bruises during rough landings. While these injuries aren't fatal, it pays to be especially careful during landings.
While miscalculations of cord length are a factor in bungee jump accidents, other fatalities occur when the foot slips out of the harness altogether.
Balloon accidents are usually the result of collisions with power lines or the ground. The impact can cause broken bones or muscle sprains.
Sudden or shifting winds are the leading cause of skydiving fatalities. Strong winds can sweep you away and cause you to crash.
The wind is also a factor for bungee jumpers. If the wind is so strong that it could blow the cord into nearby rocks, bridges or trees, the jump operator will call off the jump.
Most hot air balloon accidents are related to the weather. Balloonists must get clearance from the airport before taking off, but sometimes winds and rains can blow in quickly and unexpectedly, blowing the balloon off course. The owners of Texas Air Adventures recommend not flying on days with "rain, fog, low cloud cover, or on the day after a very hard rainstorm, as the ground conditions may be too muddy for landing."
The instructors at Safe Skydiving note that skydiving is not a physically exhausting sport, but it does require a modicum of physical fitness. "People with heart diseases, fever, osteoporosis and similar diseases should think twice before skydiving and do it only after consultation with specialist. The first skydiving jumps can be quite stressful so you’d better be in good mental health as well."
Bungee jumping also presents a risk of medical complications. One risk of particular concern to women is uterine prolapse. The speed and pressure of bungee jumping can cause the uterus to tip and, in some cases, slide out of position and even out of the body itself. Eye trauma is another serious health risk of bungee jumping caused by the pressure of the jump. Dislocations, bumps and bruises are common superficial injuries caused by the bungee cord itself.
If you have any medical conditions, you should check with your physician before booking a ride in a hot air balloon. Since balloon rides can last more than four hours, you should carry any necessary medication on the ride. Pregnant women are advised by most ballooning companies not to ride in hot air balloons.
- skydivers tandem image by Igor Zhorov from Fotolia.com