A Destrehan woman who survived a jump off the Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge amounts to nothing short of a miracle, according to a professional searcher who has recovered bodies from the Mississippi River.
“That’s an unbelievable jump,” said Tim Miller, founder and director of Texas EquuSearch that specializes in search and recovery of lost and missing persons. “God told that lady, ‘I’m not ready for you just yet so hold up.’”
The woman, not yet named by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, survived a fall from the bridge at around 3 p.m. Sunday.
Deputies responded to a call that the woman was standing on the railing at the top of the bridge. They found her unoccupied vehicle parked there and then observed a woman swimming in the river. A tugboat in the area retrieved her from the water and she was transported by helicopter to a local hospital.
The Port of South Louisiana’s marine operations also were called to the scene by the Coast Guard, but they were recalled when she was rescued by the tugboat.
Witnesses saw the woman’s white Mercedes Benz parked on the bridge, as well as reported her walking back and forth from this vehicle to the bridge. They also witnessed emergency personnel placing the woman in blankets after she was rescued and seeing her airlifted by helicopter to a local hospital.
“This was a little bit of God’s work,” Miller said.
The river poses numerous challenges to survival, Miller added. Besides the damage that a fall from such a height can do to a person’s body, the Mississippi River has an intense current that can pull someone under and cold water at this time of the year that could send a person into shock.
Had the woman jumped later in the year, Miller said it was unlikely she would have survived because the river would have been swollen with stronger currents and melted ice from the north.
“Normally, they sink immediately under,” Miller said.
Depending on the water temperature, a body can remain under water for two weeks or more.
Additionally, he said the Mississippi River is busy with barge traffic.
Miller helped recover the body of Brian Reed, brother of NFL safety Ed Reed, who is believed to have jumped or fallen into the river in 2011. The body was found three weeks later in a joint effort.
At least two of EquuSearch’s past recovery efforts in the Mississippi River had to be aborted because of the river’s current and debris.
In the last six years, four people have been killed after jumping off the Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge.
In October of 2012, Jake Bodden, 20, of Gretna jumped off the bridge to this death. His body was recovered by family members four days later. He was the second person in less than a week who jumped off the bridge. Pedro Paez, 53, of Kenner also jumped to his death earlier that week.
A year later in July, Jack Culotta, managing partner of The Culotta Law Firm, also jumped off the bridge. His body was pulled out of the river near the ADM Growmark grain elevator.
By August of 2013, Debbie Ridley Johnson, 55, also of Destrehan and a former teacher, did not survive her jump from the bridge. A motorist reported seeing the woman park her vehicle in the emergency lane, exit her vehicle and jump over the bridge railing without hesitation. Her body was found near Ama with help from the Coast Guard.
A year later, also in August, the body of James Erwin Sierra, 21, was found in the river. The man’s vehicle was found abandoned at the top of the bridge with the engine running and lights on. He had left a suicide note inside the vehicle.
“When people have suicide on their minds and they see the currents and height, they consider it a prime opportunity,” Miller said. “And, with people with mental health issues in our country today – it’s pretty scary.”