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Coast Guard rescues woman after Peace Bridge leap; Crew finds jumper near Squaw Island

Not everyone who wants to commit suicide by jumping off the Peace Bridge gets their wish.

As the woman paced back and forth on the walkway along the north side of the Peace Bridge late Monday morning, she caught the attention of passing motorists.

Then, she slipped off her shoes and jumped approximately 100 feet into the fast-moving waters of the Niagara River.

She survived.

"I'd say she is fortunate to be alive," said Coast Guard Boatswain Mate Thomas J. D'Amore. "On average, we get four or five calls a year of people jumping. Not all of them turn out to be actual distress. Last year, we had two rescues and two deceased."

D'Amore was one of four Coast Guard members to respond to an emergency call reporting a woman on the bridge at 11:25 a.m.

The crew immediately went into action.

The crew took off in a 25-foot search-and-rescue boat from the Coast Guard station, located a couple of miles south of the international span, and slowed down just past the bridge, where currents move at about 10 to 12 mph.

"We took a look and didn't see anything," the boatswain mate said. "As we kept going, we spotted the victim. She was actually trying to swim."

In four minutes, they were on the scene in waters off Squaw Island.

D'Amore and fellow crew members Jess Hamilton and Beth Phillips, both boatswain mates, and Fireman Mario Aguedelo pulled the woman from the water.

Luck and the weather were on her side.

It was sunny and 72 degrees, and the water temperature was 67 degrees. "At 67 degrees, average life expectancy is approximately two hours in the water," D'Amore said.

The fact that she escaped major physical injuries also helped her to live.

At Rich Marina, near the foot of Austin Street, the woman was turned over to a Rural/Metro Medical Services ambulance crew. At that point, she became combative, authorities said.

After it was determined she was in stable condition, she was taken to Erie County Medical Center for a more thorough evaluation to determine if she had suffered internal injuries, said Jay Smith, spokesman for Rural/Metro.

"To survive a fall from that distance and in that current is pretty extraordinary," Smith said.

Everyone involved agrees with that assessment.

At its highest point, the 5,800-foot-long bridge is 108 feet high and, as it gets closer to Canada, it slopes down to 60 feet.

"This is not something we see very often. It's actually very infrequent," said Matt Davison, spokesman for the Peace Bridge Authority. "It's an unfortunate incident, and we are pleased that she did survive. We are grateful for the quick response from the Coast Guard."

The last suicide that bridge officials could recall was about six years ago, when a young man jumped into the river, Davison said.

The discrepancy between the reports from Coast Guard and bridge officials on how often people use the span to attempt suicide, he said, may be because some of the incidents go unreported to the bridge authority.

Pedestrians and bicyclists have free access to cross the bridge and do not receive official scrutiny until they reach customs officers when entering Canada, Davison added.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com