Thursday, August 18, 2005

Cold water

I heard an interesting interview on a local radio station. The host of the radio show interviewed one of the survivors of a plane crash in the Bering Sea in 1993. The story has many interesting facets to it. Below is a direct quote from the website Additionally this newspaper article gives a very good account of the rescue.

"In August 1993 on an ordinary day, a small plane ran out of fuel 45 minutes into a 75 minute flight and had to make a crash landing. The fact that everyone on board survived may seem like a small miracle or maybe no miracle at all, just pilot skill. But consider this: the plane ditched in the Bering Sea, off of Alaska, 2 1/2 miles from the nearest land and 22 miles from their destination. The plane did not carry a life raft or life vests; the water temperature was in the 30's."

The survivors managed to survive in near arctic waters for almost 70 minutes. Typically the expected survival time in such frigid water (-1 degree Celsius) is probably around 10 to 15 minutes

Having experienced very cold water myself, I can only imagine the agony these people must have endured. At least I had thermal underwear, full drysuit, hood and gloves on when I did my cold water diving. The water, in my case was bracing, yet bearable (except for the brief "ice cream headache"). However, without exposure protection, enduring ice cold water can be very painful and possibly fatal. As many people know, water conducts heat away from the body four times faster than air does, since water is a much better conductor than air is.

Hypothermia is an insidious enemy. Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature is less than 35 degrees Celsius. Loss of consciousness or decreased consciousness occurs when the core body temperature drops to 30 to 32 degrees Celsius. Heart failure is the usual cause of death when the core body temperature drops below 30 degrees Celsius. The key to survival is therefore to try to preserve body heat. See this webpage for more information on how to improve your chances of surviving hypothermia in water.        

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