10 Disturbing Facts About Drowning

It is one of our most visceral fears; thrashing in the deep, far below the water’s surface, lungs burning. Drowning claims hundreds of thousands of lives every year, a great many of whom are young children. There exists a powerful economical correlation also, although naturally, exposure to water is a vital factor in drownings. Those in poorer countries are far more likely to drown. In Bangladesh, 17,000 children drown yearly —that ’s 46 a day.Below are 10 facts about drowning; from a lake that never surrenders its casualties to some party for lifeguards that ended in fatal satire.

10. The Lake Where Drowning Victims Are Never Found


The lake itself is huge and deep, descending 501 meters (1,645 feet). During the summer months, it really is a haven for water skiers, and swimmers, boaters. What these enjoyment seekers don’t comprehend is they have a graveyard beneath them.

Anyone who has viewed a crime show is familiar with the term “floaters”—corpses found bobbing on the surface of the water. In a drowning that is traditional, the casualty becomes submerged and perishes, the lungs filling with water. Soon afterward, bacterial activity inside the corpse causes a buildup of gases, and the body floats to the top like a cork. Lake Tahoe is not so hot that the bacteria are inhibited by it, and bodies seldom rise to the surface. Because of the lake’s elevation—1.9 kilometers (6,225 feet) above sea level—divers cannot descend as full as they usually could in other bodies of water, and the missing are frequently never uncovered.

In 2011, some “mixed gasoline” divers, whose specialized gear allows them to go down some 107 meters (350 feet), discovered the body of Donald Windecker, who’d been missing since 1995. The body was in unusually good condition. The body was maintained by the frigid depths and didn’t permit bacteria to flourish. There is no telling how many thousands more corpses lie on the ground of Lake Tahoe.

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9. Fresh Water And Salt Water Drown You Differently


At first glance, it would appear that swimming in the ocean is much more dangerous than swimming in a lake. Beachgoers can readily sweep to their doom. But shockingly enough, about 90 percent of drowning instances occur in freshwater. The reason involves a little chemistry. Fresh water is more similar in makeup to our own blood than salt water. When it’s inhaled into the lungs, it passes into the bloodstream through osmosis. Cells break open, resulting in organ failure when the blood is radically diluted. The entire process takes two to three minutes.

Ocean water contains far more salt than blood that is human. The body attempts to regulate itself by transferring water into the lungs, thickening the blood, when it’s aspirated. It takes considerably more to kill a person, between 8 to 10 minutes, allowing a substantially greater potential for saving.

8. Delayed Drowning

Johnny, who had ADD and autism, was wearing swimmies on his arms but still managed to seemingly “drink” a small water. He sputtered and coughed, then appeared to return to normal—nothing that doesn’t occur every time the typical child goes swimming. Later, he uncharacteristically soil himself and appear to have no trouble breathing. When he returned home, his mom gave him a bath and he went to bed.

She went to check on him minutes later, only to find him foaming at the mouth, his lips blue. Johnny died of cardiac arrest. He’d inhaled a sufficient amount of water to empty the oxygen from his body and kill him, a rare ailment known as “delayed drowning.” His grief stricken mom Cassandra reported, “I’ve never understood a kid could walk around, speak, talk and their lungs be full of water.” While this could happen to anyone, kids are the most susceptible. Pediatricians guide that if your children reveal the following symptoms after swimming— odd behaviour, exhaustion, or problems breathing —you should seek immediate medical attention.

7.  The Dead Sea


So named because its salinity leaves its waters practically devoid of life, the Dead Sea is located between Israel and Jordan and is popular with tourists. The myth goes that since the water is so salty (three times more so than Utah’s Great Salt Lake), it is too dense for a person to drown. It is true that it is nigh impossible to drown in the conventional fashion—that is, becoming fully submerged beneath the water.

A human body is buoyed by the Dead Sea, and it is difficult to touch the bottom with your feet; should you become turned over on your face, however, it can be hard to right yourself. Even a few swallows of the water, dense with salt and minerals, is toxic to the body and disrupting to the electrolyte balance. Those who are rescued from the sea before dying face a tough recovery, suffering internal burns and chemical pneumonia. In the most severe cases, dialysis may be required.

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6. Execution


Drowning has been used as a means of execution for millennia. Surprisingly, it was traditionally considered a rather “genteel” method of capital punishment, typically reserved for women or men of privilege. Most countries outlawed the practice during the 17th century, but it saw an ugly resurgence during two key time periods—the witch trials and the French Revolution.

In Salem and elsewhere, the process of determining whether one was a witch could be quite brutal. One tried-and-true method was weighting someone down and tossing them into water. This was a catch-22 situation, if there ever was one—a human was supposed to sink beneath the surface and drown, whereas a witch, utilizing black magic, would float and be subjected to lethal justice.

During the French Revolution, so many people were killed that novel methods had to be devised to take them out en masse. The guillotine was marvelously efficient, but could only serve one person at a time. The period between November 1873 and February 1874 was particularly grim, dubbed the “Reign of Terror.” On the orders of Revolutionary Jean-Baptiste Carrier, thousands of people in Nantes, France were killed on suspicion of being loyal to the crown. Members of the clergy were specifically targeted—stripped, loaded onto barges, and drowned in a river Carrier called “the national bathtub.”

5. Drowning Looks Different In Real Life Than In The Movies

In movies and television, a drowning scene is stereotypical—the victim will thrash about, desperately clinging to the last vestiges of life. However, real life is a lot different from Baywatch. When people find themselves on the cusp of drowning, they enter a state of preservation called the “Instinctive Drowning Response.” Voluntarily movement becomes impossible; the person tends to bob listlessly, head thrown back, mouth level with the water. The eyes may be glassy or altogether closed. The legs do not kick, and the arms are held laterally against the body. The body is held vertically.

The Instinctive Drowning Response is so undramatic that people often succumb even with lifeguards and other swimmers around. Experts recommend keeping a close eye on swimmers, and if someone becomes still to question them and make sure they remain cognizant. A drowning person will not be able to answer, or even reach for rescue equipment, and they have precious few seconds before they submerge.

4. Mammalian Diving Reflex

At the outset, humans do not appear to have any particular adaptations for survival in the water. We’re relatively poor swimmers when compared to other animals. However, humans are blessed with an evolutionary adaptation that allows aquatic animals like whales and seals to stay submerged for an extended time: the mammalian diving reflex. When a human’s face touches water, a series of involuntary physiological responses begin, designed to keep the body alive. The airway closes, the heart rate slows, and the capillaries in the skin and extremities constrict, sending blood toward the vital organs. This serves a dual purpose: keeping the organs oxygenated and insulated from increasing water pressure. Unfortunately, it also saps strength from the limbs for swimming.

This reflex is most frequently seen in drowning children. They actually have a better chance of recovery than adults. The colder the water, the better, as it slows the metabolism and allows the body to enter a protective state much like hibernation. Due to this reflex, the bodies of children who have been submerged for many minutes have been resuscitated with no neurological damage.

3. Animals That Drown

Animals are often far more clever than we tend to give them credit for, utilizing all aspects of their environment to their advantage. Raccoons, with their bandit masks, are adorable creatures, if a bit of a nuisance. They aren’t particularly dangerous, but can be savage fighters if cornered. Most of these confrontations happen with domestic dogs, some breeds of which are plenty large and determined enough to kill a raccoon. But the raccoon has a trick up its sleeve. When near a body of water, the clever little creature will swim out. When the dog invariably follows, the raccoon will dunk the dog’s head under the water, attempting to drown it.

In Australia, kangaroos will use a similar tactic to defend themselves from attacking dingoes. Otters are particularly diabolical. They breed furiously in the water, and the female is occasionally drowned during congress. The males will also attack young harbor seals, raping and killing them. In a chilling video, a group of otters attack and drown a taunting monkey at the Bronx Zoo.

2. Minorities Drown Far More Frequently

Many types of accidents claim lives indiscriminately, but drowning affects some very specific demographics. In the United States, approximately 80 percent of drowning victims are male. This is not due to any kind of physiological difference, but because men are more likely to drink and engage in risky behavior around water.

For minorities, the news is even worse. According to the CDC, African-American children are particularly at risk. African-American kids between 5 and 14 years old die from drowning nearly three times as often as whites of the same age. The most pronounced statistic occurs in children between 11 and 12 in swimming pools—African Americans are 10 times more likely to drown than whites in this scenario. Again, this is not due to any kind of physical difference between blacks and whites but exposure to water. The majority of African Americans live in urban centers, where they are less likely to encounter pools or learn to swim.

1. Irony


Nowhere would you imagine yourself safer from the danger of drowning than at a party held for lifeguards. But at a 1985 bash in New Orleans, Louisiana, drowning is precisely what happened. The party was being held to celebrate a summer where no one had drowned at any of the city’s pools.

There were some 200 people in attendance, over half of which were certified lifeguards. A further four lifeguards were on active duty when 31-year-old Jerome Moody died. Exactly when he went under was unclear; his fully clothed body was retrieved from the deep end of the pool after the party began wrapping up and guests exited the pool. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. Moody’s autopsy confirmed death by drowning. Not surprisingly, this twist of irony was quite traumatizing, with New Orleans Recreational Department Director stating, “The lifeguards were really upset. It’s a real tragedy. This was the first annual party in memory where they could celebrate a trouble-free season.”


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