There is an extremely high risk of another death from bungee jumping, inquest told.
An expert has warned that bungee jump safety may be fatally flawed. Evidence from an inquest into the horrific death of a 22-year-old Welsh student at a charity jump raises safety concerns for jumpers across the UK. Chris Thomas, a 20-stone photographic technician from Llanelli, plunged to his death after leaping from a 180ft crane in the car park of a pub in Swansea.
The appalling accident at the Old Barn Inn in Pontlassau, Morriston, was witnessed by onlookers at a family fun day including Chris's girlfriend Helen Perkins, 23, and his parents David and Yvonne Thomas who were filming the jump.
An inquest in Swansea heard yesterday that Chris, who lived with Helen in Canton, Cardiff, weighed 132kg, or 20st 10lb. But an expert investigation discovered that the rope holding him had a maximum load weight of just 90kg, and should not have safely held more than 70kg.
The inquest heard that Chris would have been speeding to the ground at more than 31mph when the bungee rope was at full stretch. Normally it should have slowed him down to a stop by then. As a result, his feet slipped through the straps buckled around his ankles and a weaker secondary harness failed. He died seven hours later from loss of blood.
Despite the death, the company which was running the jump - Freefall Bungee Wales - was found to have done nothing wrong because it was operating inside laid-down guidelines.
David Jones, a consultant forensic engineer at Cambridge University, said the accident was 'inevitable' and warned it could easily happen again. He said thousands of people who had completed bungee jumps across the UK had probably been very close to death but had not known it.
He carried out an expert investi- gation for the South Wales Police and Swansea County Council and said that current safety guidelines were insufficient.
He warned that, astonishingly, operators of bungee jump attractions did not know the weight capacity of the rope they used and there is no legal requirement obliging them to find out.
He stressed his inquiry only touched on the operation of equipment used in Swansea and he is unaware of how widespread that equipment is. But he was so concerned by his findings that he carried out extra investigations of his own highlighting safety shortcomings which he has since passed on to the Health and Safety Executive.
Dr Jones said, 'It could well be that over a period of time jump after jump had just under margin of failure without knowing it.'
Asked at the inquest if such a tragedy could happen again, he said, 'There is an extremely high risk of a fatality happening.'
He added that he hoped that an energy-based analysis to test bungee rope would be carried out by the Health and Safety Executive and would form the basis of a new more stringent safety code.
Freefall Bungee Wales' joint company owner Robert Ray, the jump master on the day, said he had made visual checks of the ropes and harness as he was ascending in a cage from which Mr Thomas was to jump, with him.
He said he had made hundreds of jumps himself but had stopped since the accident.
Mr Ray also said he was unaware of industry advice not to use bungee jump ropes for any more than two years. But the ropes in question were not two years old.
Swansea coroner Phillip Rogers recorded a verdict of accidental death.
He said he took the unusual step of invoking Rule 43 of the Coroners' Rules giving him the power to bring the details of the death to the Health and Safety Executive's immediate attention.
After the inquest the victim's father backed the expert in his view that bungee jump safety should be radically improved.
'We have lost a wonderful son we dearly loved,' said Mr Thomas, a former Dyfed-Powys Police officer, now a civilian investigator with the force.
'The guidelines for bungee jumping are ridiculous and need to be reviewed and developed,' he said.
'We wholly endorse the coroner in using his powers to get a review of the bungee jumping safety regulations in the UK.'
It emerged yesterday that since the tragedy, bungee jumping has been effectively banned in Swansea with injunctions being sought against those trying to organise jump events.