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Teen Survives Plunge Off Golden Gate Bridge

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) -- An eleventh-grade honors student from Windsor High School survived a plunge off San Francisco's famed Golden Gate Bridge on Thursday, authorities and onlookers told CBS 5.

The 17-year-old was participating in a humanities class field trip and crossing the bridge when he jumped off between the South Tower and Fort Point into San Francisco Bay, said Windsor Unified School District Superintendent Bill McDermott.

Witnesses to the incident, which occured shortly after 11 a.m., used the word "traumatizing" to describe what they had seen.

Miraculously, the boy survived the fall of about 220-feet and was rescued by a nearby surfer who paddled over to him, authorities said.

The surfer, Frederic Lecouturier of San Rafael, said the student's classmates were "cheering and yelling as he was dropping to what I thought would be a certain death."

Lecouterier said the boy, who was being evaluated at San Francisco General Hospital for injuries which reportedly included a broken tailbone and torn lung, told him he had jumped for "kicks."

McDermott said he didn't think the boy was trying to committ suicide; nonetheless, California Highway Patrol investigators said they were treating the incident as a case of attempted suicide.

But CHP Officer Chris Rardin acknowleged that "statements were made to others (not the CHP) that indicate it might have been a stunt."

The Marin County Coroner's Office and the Golden Gate Bridge District indicated that up to 1,500 people have died jumping off the bridge since it opened in 1937. Last year, 32 people were killed in bridge jumps. Prior to Thursday's event, seven people so far this year had jumped to their deaths.

Authorities estimated someone jumps off the Golden Gate on average of once every two weeks; 99.9% of those plunges end up being fatal and most of those deaths are ruled suicides.

A recent study by the Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California found more students hurl themselves off the bridge than any other demographic group.

Mary Currie, a spokeswoman for the bridge district, said if it turned out that Thursday's bridge jump was done in fun, she worried that the teen's survival would send the wrong message.

McDermott indicated this was the first time an incident of this type had ever occured on a school field trip in the Windsor district.

The student who jumped was in the company of about 45 students and two teachers on the field trip, the superintendent said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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