Natchez man survives jump from bridge

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 26, 1999

Police say &uot;it was a miracle&uot; a Natchez man survived late Wednesday after plunging into the Mississippi River from the Natchez bridge.

Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff said John McNeil, 34, of Natchez fell 115 to 120 feet into the river and was discovered nearly four hours later about a mile downstream.

&uot;It was a miracle he survived the fall and the river,&uot; Huff said.

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Huff said Officer Chuck Hall of the Vidalia Police Department received a call at 10:47 p.m. that someone was sitting on the bridge and might jump. Hall drove closer to McNeil on the north side of the old Mississippi River bridge, and saw McNeil sitting on a girder.

McNeil then thumped his cigarette into the river and pushed himself off the girder, Huff said.

Hall called the Vidalia Police Station for assistance, Huff said.

Vidalia Fire Department put a boat into the water.

&uot;Police also alerted tugboats on the river to be on the lookout for someone in the water,&uot; Huff said.

A tugboat from Vidalia Dock and Storage was already in the river and assisted in the search.

Officers from Vidalia Police Department, Vidalia Fire Department, Concordia Sheriff’s Department, Adams County Sheriff’s Department and Natchez Police Department searched the river until 2 a.m. when they received an anonymous call from J.M. Jones Lumber Company on Government Fleet Road.

The caller said a man was on the property and he appeared to be soaking wet and injured.

Officers went to J.M. Jones Lumber Company and found McNeil, identified by Hall as the same man he saw jump from the bridge.

McNeil was taken to Natchez Community Hospital and later transferred to University Medical Center in Jackson where he was being treated for a broken ankle. McNeil was listed in good condition Thursday, according to a hospital spokesman.

Huff said there are no charges pending against McNeil at this time, but a final decision is still pending on whether a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace might be filed at a later date.

Huff said McNeil was despondent over his unemployment and a disagreement he had early Wednesday evening with his wife.