Make adventure sports safe
Pushpa Girimaji

IT is not by accident that I am again writing on safety this week. Another tragic death, this time of a young marine engineer who fell headlong from a height of over 40 feet during a reverse bungee jump near Bangalore, forces me to question the safety of these adventure sports in our country. Adventure sports are becoming highly popular with the youth in our country—or else we would not be seeing so many adventure clubs and camps offering a variety of sports such as mountain biking, rock climbing, river rafting, para gliding, hot air ballooning, skiing and, perhaps, the most adventurous and daring of them all, bungee jumping.

Deaths have taken place because of incorrect handling of the bungee cord
Deaths have taken place because of incorrect handling of the bungee cord

Even though bungee jumping is new in India, the world’s first commercial bungee jumping began in New Zealand way back in 1988, and the country even offers such jumping experiences in the darkness of the night, to add to the heart-thumping experience. To the daredevils, this could be the most pleasurable experience, but by their very nature, adventure sports carry an inherent risk. It is in recognition of these that some of the developed countries that offer these kind of adventures ensure stringent safety measures.

Challenge your limits, but safely, says a blurb on one of these websites. Despite stringent safety measures, there could be accidents. As far as bungee jumps are concerned, eye trauma (blood vessel rupture in the eye) could be one of them. Rope burn, pinched fingers and bruises are the other most common injuries. There could also be a strain on the spine. But where safety precautions are not good, the risks are manifold. In fact, experts say that deaths have happened because of incorrect handling of the bungee cord, or the ankle harness coming loose (where a back-up safety like a body harness was not provided).

In the case of 25-year-old V. Bhargava, the police has said that the latch of his safety belt snapped while he was doing a reverse bungee jump. Reports quoting the police have said that the event, organised jointly by the Centre for Adventure and Rejuvenation of Environment (CARE) and Head Rush Bungee, had no emergency medical facilities to treat the victim.

The snapping of the safety belt latch is a clear indicator of the poor equipment used. The police has registered a case of negligence, and the family can even file a case for compensation before the consumer court. But for the family, nothing can fill the void left by the untimely death of the young man.

So the next time you go for such adventure sports or send your children to those, be sure to make a detailed check. Is the adventure club certified by the relevant authority? What is the certification for? Are there trained personnel to supervise the sports? What is the nature of their training and experience? What about the sports gear that they provide? Whether it is rock climbing or river rafting, do they provide proper harnesses to prevent injuries in case of a fall or life jackets in case the raft sinks, or you fall into the river? How well is the equipment maintained? Are there adequate communication and emergency medical facilities? How much time will it take to provide emergency aid to an injured person?

Without getting proper answers to these, it would not be advisable to go for them. It is equally important to discuss the risks involved, and whether it is worth taking that risk.. If only Bhargava had questioned the organisers about the safety issues, I am sure he would not have taken the plunge at all.

There is another point that I wish to emphasise before I conclude. Never allow your friends to force you to take to any of these adventure sports if you are not comfortable with them. Having said that, I must say that it is time the administration turned its attention on these kinds of sports and debated their safety, particularly in a country like ours where safety does not get the kind of attention that it deserves. Wherever such adrenalin-pumping, death-defying sports events are allowed, the authorities must take full responsibility for enforcing safety. In fact, the licensing for these adventures should be within the purview of a specialised regulator.