Even though the bungee-jumping company claimed a 100 percent safety record, a nervous Rishi Baveja still said a prayer and made the sign of the cross before launching himself off a 165-foot tower in Thailand.
“It is an insane rush of nerves, excitement and fear. My body was trembling, but I was so, so excited as well,” the bearded 21-year-old Englishman told TODAY’s Ann Curry Monday from his home in Wakefield, England. “I’ve never been so scared, but again, it’s a huge rush.”
As Baveja put his arms out and fell feetfirst off the tower toward the green water far below, he had no idea what a rush his first bungee jump would turn out to be. When he reached the end of the bungee cord, it detached from his feet and he smashed chest-first into the water at 80 mph.
Leading with his feetDoctors say that had Baveja hit headfirst, he would either have been killed or have suffered severe brain damage. Instead, with his chest taking the brunt of the impact, he came away with two collapsed lungs, a torn liver and a ruptured spleen, among other injuries. Baveja spent a month in the hospital recovering, and will go through the rest of his life without his spleen, which had to be removed.
There is some debate about the instruction Baveja got before he jumped. He said the instructor just told him to put his arms out and jump; the company, Jungle Bungy Jump, which had claimed 17 years of 100 percent accident-free operation before his jump, has said Baveja was supposed to go off headfirst and not feetfirst.
By leading with his feet, the company has said, Baveja caused the bungee cords to detach from his feet.
“I’ve got friends that bungee jump all the time,” Baveja told Curry. “They say you should be able to go off that platform any way you want and the thing shouldn’t come off you.”
Regardless of whose fault it was, Baveja has thus far chosen not to get into a finger-pointing game. He has declined to sue the company. Nor has he sworn off high-adrenaline activities.
None of this has played well with Baveja’s mother, who flew to Thailand to be with him during his long recovery and is tending her son while he finishes healing at the family home.
“I spent a long time convincing my mom to let me go do this,” he told Curry.
Now he has to convince her again, because he still has his list — and bungee jumping is still on it.
“The reason to do it again is because I have a list of 15 things I want to do over this next year, and I haven’t exactly bungee jumped yet — just jumped,” Baveja said with a laugh. “I’ve still got to do it. I’ve still got to take it off the list.”
And then he has to skydive, which prompted Curry to wonder facetiously whether Baveja has a death wish.
“Obviously, you should take precautions, but ... everything you do in life has risks,” Baveja replied philosophically. “Every time you get in a car in the morning, you take a risk: You don’t think about the car crash, think about the accident.
“I wouldn’t want to rule these things out completely,” he added, referrring to his list. “I still think they’re pretty cool things that I’d love to do one day — but maybe not for a little while.”
Baveja also said that his brush with death has given him a measure of perspective that doesn’t usually come with an economics degree.
“I’ve got a brand-new appreciation for life,” he told Curry. “When these things happen, you just appreciate the little things a lot more.”