A California woman jumped to her death from the Hoover Dam bypass bridge Saturday night in what authorities are saying may be the first suicide there since the span opened in October 2010.
Officers from the federal police force that patrols the area around Hoover Dam spent roughly 30 minutes trying to talk the woman down before she jumped about 9 p.m., said Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam.
On Monday afternoon, the Clark County coroner's office identified the woman as 60-year-old Patricia Oakley of San Jose, Calif.
The Hoover Dam Police Department was alerted to the woman by bridge visitors who noticed her behaving erratically.
"Every one of our officers has extensive training in crisis negotiation," Davis said.
The woman's body was recovered from the Colorado River on Sunday morning, she said.
Davis said the suicide was "the first one that we're aware of" from the 1,900-foot-long bridge, which crosses Black Canyon 900 feet above the river about a quarter of a mile downstream from Hoover Dam.
The woman jumped from the pedestrian walkway that crosses the bridge from the Nevada side and gives tourists a rare view of the dam from above. The walkway, which is open day and night, is separated from bridge traffic by a concrete barrier.
The Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, as it is officially known, is the highest and longest concrete-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere.
Rudy Malfabon, deputy director of the Nevada Department of Transportation, said engineers from Nevada, Arizona and the Federal Highway Administration had discussed the potential for suicides during the design phase of the $240 million bridge but decided against any structures that could deter jumpers.
"They eventually came to the conclusion that putting in fencing or caging, it is unlikely to prevent someone from doing it," Malfabon said. "If they're determined to commit suicide, they're going to do it. You couldn't totally secure it.
"There were some concerns about the aesthetics of the bridge, too," he said.
The concrete wall along the pedestrian walkway is higher than normal at 4 feet, 6 inches. On the south side of the highway, where there is no walkway, the wall is a foot shorter.
Malfabon said there are no plans to place suicide hotline signs or netting on the bridge.
"This is very tragic, and our thoughts are with the family," he said. "There are no plans at NDOT to put anything out there. There are security folks out there, and they are trained to look out for those type of signs of someone who is considering jumping."
That training was instituted after 2000, when four people jumped to their deaths from Hoover Dam.
To learn more about spotting and preventing potential suicides, officials at the dam sought the advice of those working at what may be the leading site for suicides in the world.
More than 1,300 people have jumped to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge since the iconic span opened in 1937. A network of security cameras, bike patrols and hotline phones is used to curb suicide attempts there.
In 2008, officials approved the installation of nets beneath the bridge to catch jumpers, but funding for the $50 million system is still being sought.
Nevada has one of the highest per-capita suicide rates in the nation.
Davis said the Bureau of Reclamation does not keep statistics on suicides at Hoover Dam. In 2004, a regional security manager for the bureau told the Review-Journal that about 30 people had jumped to their deaths from the dam since it opened in 1936.
The dam rises more than 725 feet above the Colorado River, almost three times the height of the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Hoover Dam bypass bridge is about 175 feet taller than the dam.
Review-Journal writers Mike Blasky and Adrienne Packer contributed to this report. Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.