The dangerous craze of jumping from piers and cliffs into shallow water, known as tombstoning, claimed its first victim of the summer yesterday as a body of a man in his mid-thirties was found off Norfolk. The man, thought to be Lee Griffin, 33, an unemployed chef, did not resurface after jumping into the North Sea from Cromer pier with a friend on Wednesday.
Yarmouth Coastguard searched well into the night after the man went missing, and found the body when the search resumed in the morning. Several warnings had been made about the dangers of tombstoning. "It's a perennial problem," said a spokesman for Yarmouth Coastguard. "We give warnings but people still take part in these antics."
The death is thought to be the first caused by tombstoning this year, but the craze has already caused at least three serious accidents, with casualties typically suffering injuries to the neck and spine.
Tombstoning is done regularly on the Welsh coast, and in Dorset and Cornwall, with jumpers ignoring warnings and "No tombstoning" signs. Jumpers, who have been known to plunge from as much as 100ft, can be caught out by hidden rocks, changing tides and large waves.
An accident and emergency doctor in Cornwall described the activity as "utter and complete insanity" this week after two more teenagers suffered serious injuries by jumping into shallow water. A 17-year-old had to be airlifted to hospital after jumping 25ft into water that barely covered his ankles, suffering a neck injury and fractured ribs. A 15-year-old was seriously hurt after jumping from a yacht's roof.
In May, a 25-year-old tombstoner was paralysed from the neck down after jumping from a cliff in Whistand Bay, Cornwall. In Portland, a group of tombstoners was caught returning to a cliff at the weekend, the scene of several tombstoning accidents. Last year one jumper was left unconscious after plunging 100ft into the sea from the Durdle Door cliff, and another urged fellow tombstoners to stop jumping after shattering his left leg.
Dr Peter McCue, a psychologist and a veteran of 600 skydives, said: "At the beginning, self-esteem is a part of risk-taking. When we do something that others perceive as dangerous, it gives us a buzz and makes us feel good about ourselves. More kudos can be acquired by pushing the risks ever further."
He added: "There is also a psychological explanation known as 'reversal theory' that might help explain why people engage in dangerous things. It says that we experience arousal in different ways. When we are in a playful mode, risky things that would otherwise cause us great anxiety actually create a feeling of excitement. There is initially a sense of apprehension and fear, but once the jump has been successfully completed that high arousal gives way to a sense of euphoria."
Last summer, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) reported five deaths from tombstoning, and four serious injuries. Joe Stagg, of Rospa, said: "We can see the attraction of the activity, but it is extremely hazardous and we ask people to think through the many risks first."