ST. PETERSBURG — A woman jumped off the highest portion of the Sunshine Skyway bridge and lived Sunday evening.
Gina Rue, 43, fell the 197 feet from the center span above Tampa Bay at 5:15 p.m. Boaters alerted a nearby U.S. Coast Guard unit, which pulled Rue out of the water and brought her ashore.
She was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with serious injuries, including back pain and facial lacerations. But Rue was expected to survive, said St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Lt. Joel Granata.
The Coast Guard unit was only about 200 yards away from where Rue splashed into the water. They were preparing to board another vessel at the time.
"We just happened to be at the right place at the right time," said Shawn Fitchko, 29, a boatswain's mate second class on the unit.
Fitchko said Rue was clutching a floating seat cushion that a boater had tossed to her when the Coast Guard vessel reached her.
He said Rue, who was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, was alert and was able to move her fingers and toes. He talked to her to try to keep her conscious.
"She was wondering why she was alive, actually," he said.
People don't often survive a jump from the high span of the bridge, but it has happened on rare occasions.
Updated statistics weren't available Sunday, but a St. Petersburg Times article in 2003 reported that at least 127 people had died jumping from the bridge since it opened in April 1987, making it one of the most-used bridges for suicide in the nation.
A Times article a year earlier stated that only about a half-dozen people had survived the fall. Famously, a Rottweiler named Shasta also survived the jump in 1998 when she was either carried by or followed her suicidal owner over the edge. The man died.
People who make the jump hit the water in about 3.5 seconds going about 75 mph. The impact typically breaks bones and ruptures organs. Even if the impact doesn't kill them, people are knocked unconscious and drown.
Over the last decade, the Times has interviewed two people who survived the jump. Both said they regretted the decision to jump just before they hit the water. The impact was so violent that it ripped off of their clothes.
One survivor, whose bowels were ruptured and back broken, described the feeling as like crashing through a wooden deck. A nearby boater rescued her.
The other survivor suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs, ruptured spleen and fractured vertebra in his neck. He swam to nearby rocks and was rescued.
Over the years, state officials have taken steps to try to prevent people from jumping, including installing crisis phones and assigning Florida Highway Patrol troopers to patrol the bridge for potential jumpers.
Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or [email protected]