People around the world will pay more for a vacation rental with with breathtaking views.  The window or balcony is the place to go to breath it in while you enjoy cocktail hour with family and friends.  It’s the sweet life.  The sweet life turns sour when alcohol impairs judgement and you or someone you love, leans out and never leans back.  Death by balcony happens around the world.  It’s time to pay attention.

Spain is warning British travelers about a ‘craze’ called balconing where tourists leap from balcony to balcony, or from a balcony into a pool. Balcony leapers are often under the influence of alcohol resulting in grave injuries and death. Xavier Gonzalez, head of surgery at the Son Espases hospital in Palma de Majorca, has been studying the phenomenon. During 2010 – 2015, Gonzalez’s treated 46 patients who suffered falling injuries. He said 60 per cent of the victims were British, followed by Germans and Spaniards.

Balcony standards of size, height and safety vary from country to country. Travelers are advised to inspect their balconies when they arrive, go easy on alcoholic drinks and obtain comprehensive travel insurance.  At Depart Smart, we caution to touch their belly button to determine if the window or balcony railing is equal to or below the middle of your body. If below, and you lean out, the mere ballast of your body could pull you over and you may never lean back.

Travel can be an exciting adventure into foreign countries with diverse architecture and safety codes, which may or may not be enforced.  Most people assume fire and building codes protect their well-being.  Under the influence of alcohol, common sense literally goes ‘out the window’.

Spain, a destination for history, sun, music and fine food, is less well known for a disturbing trend occurring in its hotels. Over and over again, tourists have been staying in Spanish resorts and ending up dead or seriously injured. The cause: falling from a balcony. Spain isn’t the only country with serious illness by balcony, they are leading the world by issuing warnings to travelers who visit their country.

 

Here are just a few examples of critical balcony falls by year and country:

June 2016: Ramona Fagan, 21, of Cork, Ireland, falls from a balcony in Tenerife. It’s noted in this article that more Irish people abroad died in Spain in 2015 than anywhere else – 65 deaths.

July 2016: Christopher Beattie, 33, of Glasgow, Scotland, fell from a hotel balcony in Ibiza, Spain around 1 a.m.

August 2016: An Irish man, 23, is in serious medical condition after falling from a balcony in Costa Del Sol.

September 2016: Alexander Forrest, 20, of Scotland, dies after falling from a balcony in Majorca, Spain. The exact cause of the fall is unknown.

November 2016: Danielle Hall, 21, of Newcastle, UK, falls to her death from a hotel balcony in the Benidorm resort in Spain. Her family awaits the results of the police investigation.

Sept. 2015: Malky Weir, 50, died after he slipped off a hotel balcony. He and his wife, who were celebrating a birthday in Gran Canaria, Spain, were locked out of their room. It’s speculated Weir fell trying to find an alternate entrance.

June 2015, Eimear Walsh, 21, Eoghan Culligan, 21, Olivia Burke, 21, Niccolai Schuster, 21, Ashley Donohoe, 22, and Lorcan Miller, 21, all students from Ireland who perished when a balcony collapsed in the university of Berkeley while celebrating a birthday.  

July, 2014: Keaton Alan Klein, 21, while traveling on a student program in Prague, Klein fell from a balcony to his death.  

May 2012: Charlotte Faris, 23, died in Malaguf after falling from a balcony. She was the third British person to die in a single month. Authorities blame cheap drinks at a local bar and holiday revelry.

 

The Daily Mail reported a commonality between many of these balcony injuries: a combination of different balcony design and often, alcohol. Equally as tragic, travel insurance companies have fine print denying claims if alcohol or drugs, not prescribed by a physician, are influencers in the injury or death. The caveat reads something like this, “We will not pay under any circumstances if you were under the influence of any intoxicating liquor or drugs, except a drug prescribed to you by a Medical Adviser, and taken in accordance with their instructions.”

Many, but not all, of these casualties and accidents are attributed to alcohol and roughhousing. Accidents on balconies can happen even to sober and responsible people. Be extra cautious when you’re out on a balcony, no matter how familiar you are with it.

The Centers for Disease Control says, “Guards and railings can provide a false sense of security when deficiencies exist with the design, installation, or maintenance, or if the fasteners are loose, missing or damaged. In fact, certain guard configurations can actually increase the risk of falling.“  Community Association Underwriters of America informs readers of national standards for balcony safety checks.  Within municipalities, the codes may actually be more stringent:

  • Vertical slats should be less than 4 inches, so a small child cannot squeeze through.
  • Guards and railings deteriorate because of weather conditions, usage, and lack of maintenance. Paint often hides the deterioration.  
  • Guards for residential decks and balconies need a height between 36 inches and 42 inches, depending on the height of the surface above grade. The required height for railings is between 34 inches and 38 inches, measured above the finished stair tread nosings.
  • Minimum installation in the USA requires a horizontal concentration weight bearing load of 100 lbs, and a vertical load of 50-100 lbs.

 

Balcony and window falls are pervasive.  A quick Internet search for ‘balcony window fall death’ returns 21.6 million hits.  On March 20, 1991, Eric Clapton suffered a parent’s worst nightmare. In a heartbreaking tragic accident, Clapton’s four-and-a-half-year-old son, Conor, fell out of an open window in the high-rise New York condominium he was living in with his mother, actress and Italian television personality Lory Del Santo.

Helpful hints:

  • Be wary, do not lean on, out or over windows or balcony railings.
  • Consider the horizontal weight bearing load per square foot of 100 lbs. and vertical weight bearing load of 50-100 lbs.
  • Check the balcony for deterioration if possible, or ask building maintenance to validate safety standards.
  • Children should be supervised at all times.  They should never left alone near high-rise windows or balconies
  • Alcohol and heights do not mix.  Avoid windows and balconies if you drink alcohol.
  • Travel insurance may exclude paying claims if the insured is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

 

This is the second blog article Depart Smart has published on balcony falls.  Please share and leave a comment.  It could save the life of someone you love and care about.  Stay safe! Visit DepartSmart.org for more resources.