January 30, 2010

Shillinglaw’s folly

  There are no professional bungee jumping places in the foothills near Shillinglaw's home, so he decides to make one.
  The railroad trestle he selects for a jumping platform crosses over a river which is almost bone dry. The county has a rain deficit of nearly a foot. The river is all the more dangerous because of large rocks jutting out from under the water.
  A sporting goods store in town does not sell bungee cord by the yard, so Shillinglaw goes to several discount stores and buys out their entire stock of short length elastic straps. These straps, with metal hooks on each end, are used to strap cargo on luggage racks.
  Shillinglaw spends an entire Saturday piecing together his makeshift bungee jumping system. He connects the various lengths with hooks, then secures the hooks by bending them with pliers and sealing them with duct tape.   The day after Shillinglaw builds his bungee outfit, a man fly-fishing downstream from the railroad trestle uses his cell phone to call 911. He tells the sheriff he saw a skinny kid in a red tee shirt standing on top of the trestle. The fisherman says the kid tied something to one ankle then took a swan-dive off the trestle into the river -- or assortment of rocks.
  The coroner says the distance from the platform to the riverbed is 73 feet. The pieced-together bungee cord is 60 feet long. To that add the boy's height of 5-feet, 10-inches and weight of 137 pounds. Perhaps Shillinglaw figured the "stretch" factor would work in his favor. It did not. Deputies doubt that Shillinglaw even thought about "elasticity" in planning his very unremarkable feat.
  Using a physics formula recalled from high school days, a deputy estimates that Shillinglaw was probably falling at the rate of 48 to 50 miles per hour when he reached the end of his rope — literally.

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