30 years ago on December 7th, 1994
Howard Stern and a passing motorist save a man threatening to jump from the George Washington Bridge
The 29-year-old man called in to Stern's radio show from the middle of the bridge, intending to jump to his death. Stern kept him talking and asked drivers listening to his program and crossing the bridge to honk their horn to show that the caller was not a hoax. Brooklyn resident Helen Trimble heard the broadcast and saw the police helicopter at the bridge, so she stopped her car on the bridge, found the man, and bear-hugged him until police arrived. The entire encounter played out live on Stern's show, including impromptu interviews with the man who was in distress, the woman who stopped to rescue him, and the police responding to the scene.
The man in distress, Emilio Bonilla, was taken into Port Authority police custody and went on see a psychiatrist. Speaking to the The Bronx Beat graduate student newspaper at Columbia University two months after the phone call, Mr. Bonilla described what led him to consider ending his life: "I didn't want to be average anymore, working 9 to 5," he said. "I knew there had to be more out there, but each time I tried, I was getting chopped down."
The Stern show moved on after the call in a bit of disbelief at the outcome of the call, and discussion about how to handle the requests for interviews that were beginning to come in. Stern credited his sense of humor with saving the man, saying that he kept him on the phone by not by dismissing his complaints about life, but focusing on making him laugh. Congressmember José Serrano, Senator Al D'Amato, and Former Mayor Ed Koch all called in to congratulate Stern, and both Helen Trimble, who bear-hugged the man in distress, and NYPD Lieutenant Bleecker, who rescued the man, later arriving at the studio and take part in a press conference.
After a series of temporary fences, a permanent fence was finally installed on both walkways to prevent people in distress from being able to easily jump from the George Washington Bridge. Between 70 and 80 people had attempted to jump from the bridge each year in the late 2010s.