What does ‘drowning’ look like? Know the signs

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Drowning can happen as quickly as 20 seconds. So, before you head to the local swimming hole or the coast this summer, you should know what drowning looks like.

Experts say it’s not what most people think. But, if you know the signs to look for, you could prevent a tragic accident.

“I thought there would be some sort of warning, some sort of cry for help,” said parent Kristina Sauerwein. “But it was silent and it was straight down like an anchor. There was nothing.”

Frank Pia was a lifeguard for 20 years, and has made a lifelong study of drowning.

“To a parent,” he said, “it may look like a child is dog paddling.”

Pia said to look for movements that are only up and down, since that’s a sign someone may be drowning.

As part of his research, he would set up a video camera at the beach. Below is video he captured of two kids drowning. The lifeguard dashing in to save them is Pia. The childrens’ parents were right next to them, he said, completely unaware.

A quarter of all drownings, he said, happen with other people present.

“The reason for that is they were expecting, whether it was a child or adult, they would call out and wave for help.”

What are the signs of drowning?Pia says when a person starts to drown, their body goes into survival mode, which makes deliberate actions like yelling or waving their arms over their head nearly impossible.

As such, here are the signs to look for:

  • Their head is low in the water.
  • Their head may be tilted back and their mouth open.
  • They may look like they’re climbing an invisible ladder.
  • Small children may appear like they’re trying to roll onto their back.

Anyone seeing these signs may not have long to act.

“I felt so lucky,” Sauerwein said. “If I had looked around one more time, or just said I’ll check him in a second, it could have been too late.”

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