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Warning tourists of the dangers of ‘Balconing’

 I was contacted by Sky News last week and asked to provide comment live on a news feature they were running on the dangers of ‘Balconing’. It’s a new craze which is sweeping through the Balearic islands and has already led to 4 deaths in young people this summer; amongst a total of 15 deaths recorded as ‘accidental falls from balconies’

Unfortunately the feature Sky News were planning was pulled shortly before it was due as there were further developments with the devastating floods in Pakistan. Having prepared and researched the item I thought I would share it with visitors to our website.

This story came to light following the tragic accident involving a young British tourist Ryan Ellery, who fell from a balcony in Ibiza and suffered very serious injuries.

Balconies have long been dangerous places for tourists with many deaths from balcony falls reported every year, the majority of which involve people intoxicated through drink or drugs.

‘Balconing’ is the practice of either jumping from one balcony to another or from a hotel balcony into a pool. Balcony jumping (from one to another) is said to often be done in order to gain access to girl’s rooms; something which adds a whole other set of concerns.

The practice of jumping from a second, third or fourth floor balcony (or in some cases the roof) into a pool presents what most would see as obvious dangers; miscalculating the distance and clipping the concrete edge of a pool, missing the pool entirely or jumping into a pool which is not sufficiently deep (a 10m jump into salt water requires at the very minimum 5m water depth, swimming pools which are fresh water are even less buoyant) and hitting the bottom; not to mention the potential of colliding with other people using the pool.

It is these dangers which have not only led to the fatalities, but to countless (we have seen reports on between 30 and close to 100) injuries, of which some have been very serious indeed; as in the case of Ryan Elley.

‘Balconing’ is an extension of the practise commonly referred to as ‘Tombstoning’ in the UK and which was recently the subject of a renewed warning from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

‘Tombstoning is the practice of jumping from height (usually rocks, cliffs, piers, sea walls, jetties etc) into the sea and has led to many fatalities and injuries as a result of miscalculation, hidden rocks, other obstacles under the water, strong currents, shock from the water temperature and due to the significant changes in the depth of water due to the tide.

In the last 5 years there have been 139 accidents from ‘Tombstoning’ in the UK which required an emergency response by the RNLI and 12 which resulted in fatalities. Many of the accidents involved serious life-changing spinal injuries.

The RNLI are so concerned about this practice they have produced a Short Campaign Film highlighting the dangers; it’s a film anyone thinking about taking part in ‘Balconing’ should think about watching before they take the leap.

Preventing these ‘accidents’ can only be done through understanding the causes and educating those taking part. The first thing is to find out who they are; typically they are young men, but I have seen videos of young girls taking part in ‘Balconing’ and recently a 75 year old man was hospitalised in Dorset after a ‘Tombstoning’ incident…

Let’s not castigate young people in search of ‘adventure’, certainly I would not condone ‘Balconing’ on any level, but peer pressure has led young people to take irresponsible actions for generations. Peer pressure usually means doing something as ‘impressive’ or more ‘impressive’ than those that have gone before. Twenty years ago this was relatively straight forward and only involved a small group of friends ‘competing’, in this ‘YouTube generation’ there is a whole world to compete with; it means those prone to risk taking feel pressure to take even greater risks.

There is also an element of not realising the benefits of the health & safety standards we enjoy in the UK; the RNLI is a great example of this, a voluntary service we should be rightly proud of.

The fact is if I decide to pick a fight with a grizzly bear with my back to the edge of the white cliffs of Dover, on the assumption I somehow survive, I will be rescued and I will receive treatment. This is a great privilege and unique to the UK, in much of the rest of the world it is money or insurance which will get you help and the standard of that help will vary very considerably.

If we can remember this then it should make us take more care to avoid requiring assistance when we are abroad. Climbing onto the railings of a third floor balcony with the intention of throwing yourself off into the pool below, is in this context is a very very bad idea.

This brings me on to the subject of travel insurance, you should never travel anywhere without it. Even the ‘simplest’ medical procedures can carry considerable cost; if you go to A&E in the UK the cost will not cross your mind, but it can cost thousands of pounds to the tax payer and in the rest of the world they will charge YOU. If you require medical evacuation, the cost can be as high as £10,000 to £30,000 in extreme reported cases costs have been in excess of £100,000.

So travel insurance is vital, however if the reason for your injury is that you were drunk and decided to jump into a pool from the second floor balcony, the chances of your insurance company paying out are somewhere between limited and zero. Drink or dugs alone usually invalidate insurance, as do voluntary acts of recklessness.

I spoke to a senior FCO official on this matter and they are genuinely worried about the ‘craze’ of ‘Balconing’ and the minister responsible is considering releasing a statement on the issue. They re-enforced our concerns about the invalidation of travel insurance through such activities.

Alcohol and drugs play a significant part in these activities, the levels of intoxication turns ‘Balconing’ from irresponsible and dangerous to suicidal. Think about it if you are not fit to drive a car…

The fact is that binge drinking has become a problem in the UK, with people drinking to excess and the nature of the drink being high abv drinks and spirits. Many of those who travel on these types of holiday take that one or two day a week binging habit and spread it throughout the week.

The problem is people are not aware of the number of units they consume but rather count their consumption in the number of drinks they have. Because they are on holiday they often consume even more and the volume of spirits measures in particular can mean that a standard shot of spirits (typically 25ml in the UK) contains twice as much alcohol as they are used to (a standard measure in most continental holiday locations will be 50ml).

The consequence of this is that holidaymakers binge twice as much as usual, without realising it. Because the body can only eliminates about 1 unit an hour, many of those binging in these resorts can find themselves never sobering up and so actually getting drunker and drunker as the week goes on; by the way you can’t sleep off alcohol, the rate of sobering changes little awake or asleep.

Ask around British tourists on the Balearic islands and it will not take you long to find one who has consumed 30+ units the night before. So let’s use this example of a tourist who has consumed 30 units in one night; when they wake up they might still have some 20 units in their system. Even if they don’t drink until the evening, when they sit down for dinner and drink their first glass of sangria they may well still have 10 units in their system… the point is they will often be starting a ‘new’ night from a position of significant intoxication.

This scenario is a problem at the best of times, with a mix of peer pressure, YouTube, a feeling of invincibility, a lack of life experiences which provide a natural risk aversion and potentially other chemical stimulants playing their part, it provides a dangerous ‘cocktail’.

What can you do:

  • Tell people of the dangers; show people the RNLI Video
  • Talk to those who might take part in such activities with respect; explain to them that if peer pressure means it is more difficult to say no than to jump, surely saying no is actually a braver thing to do…
  • Don’t encourage other people (when someone is drunk even shouting at them to stop may just add to the sense of encouragement, silence can be deafening), walk away and get other to walk away; few will jump without an audience; avoid being guilty by association.
  • Tell someone at the hotel or the police; you might be saving a life.
  • Drink in moderation and take it in turns to stay sober to watch over your friends.
  • Be a leader not a follower.

If you’re a thrill seeker or an adrenaline junkie there are hundreds of safer ways to get the shot of adrenaline and the kudos you are looking for.


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Source – Sky News

Date – 13th August 2010

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew