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How to Escape From Quicksand

How to Escape From Quicksand - If you’re a child of the 1980’s or earlier, or just an avid movie watcher then there’s a great possibility that you have a some-what irrational fear of sinking it a pit of quicksand. For years quicksand has been a common catastrophe for characters in film and television such as The Princess Bride, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and I Love Lucy.

While this gag may provide any city dweller with some exoctic tension, is quicksand actually a crisis we should prepare for? Today on the Show we’ll uncover the dangers of quicksand and the best ways to escape if you ever find yourself in that slippery situation. Unfortunately for some adventure lovers very few of these movies and TV examples can actually stand up against scientific scrutiny.

It is common to see a scene with a character panicked, thrashing, screaming and sinking often times drowning, completely submerged by the muddy ground, like in the case of Sheriff Denver Kid in the 1978 Western “Hot Lead and Cold Feet”, where only his hat remained on the surface.

If there are so many on-screen portrayals of death or near death experiences by quicksand, why are there so few actual cases of people meeting their demise this way? Mostly because Hollywood has it wrong, let’s break down why this commonality in movies has duped the public perception of quicksand and what the real-life dangers of quicksand actually are.

How to Escape From Quicksand
Image: Wikipedia

Quicksand is often found on riverbanks, near lakes, marshes or near coastal areas. It happens when two phases of matter, liquid and solid, meet. It can be a mixture of sand and water, silt and water, clay and water, sediment and water,or even sand and air. It is caused by the sand having more space between particles than in dry sand.

This is why if you try to build a sand castle when your sand is too wet, you end up with a muddy lump, rather than a standing structure. One of the leading scientists on understanding quicksand, Daniel Bonn of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands explains that quicksand is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means any amount of stress causes its viscosity to quickly drop, or in other words it’s resistance to flow is lowered.

While it may look solid, once the weight like a human or animal disturbs it, this allows for more liquid to flow in, diminishing friction, and then loses it’s ability to act as a solid, which is why you sink. When limbs are moved underneath the surface, the movement creates a vacuum pressure which sinks you deeper, and requires a lot more effort to move through.

This vacuum effect is something you may have experienced when stepping into certain consistencies of mud that pulls your shoe off. While you might be scared if you find yourself suddenly sinking into the earth - don’t panic too hard. Continued movement, like flailing or “swimming” keeps the mixture more like a liquid, causing you to sink.

When you stop flailing, and start saying your final goodbyes, crying, or screaming you may realize you’ve actually stopped sinking. This is all due to basic physics, the average human has a density of about 1 gram per milliliter,while the average density of quicksand is about 2 grams per milliliter, so you’d only sink half way even if you did everything wrong.

This is because your legs are quite dense, but the lungs in your torso are buoyant enough to keep you out of serious trouble. This means that the Hollywood depiction of people getting sucked into quicksand and “drowning” is actually impossible, at no point would the quicksand reach above your head. What a relief! But not really. . .

If you find yourself stuck it is no easy feat to free yourself from the insane pressure underneath the surface. There have been cases of quicksand deaths but it’s never as fast as the movies portray. Usually deaths occur from exhaustion, sun exposure, or if you're in the unfortunate situation of being stuck near the ocean where the high tide will likely kill you, and then sweep you away.

Let’s not forget to mention the threat of wildlife, especially if you’re out in the open desert or rain forest. A slow and agonizing death is far more likely, and terrifying. On July 7th, 2015 Jose Rey Escobedo went missing at about 10 am in San Antonio, Texas. Police received a call reporting a light blue car had been parked underneath the San Antonio River Bridge in Goliad County for several days.

After his glasses and wallet were identified, and camping or running away were largely ruled out, police started a widespread search of the river, where Escobedo would often swim alone. A few days later Game Wardens Kevin Fagg and William Zappe continued to search the San Antonio river by boat after a helicopter was unsuccessful in locating him from above.

What they found was Escobedo’s body lodged in quicksand, face down, just 350 yards upstream from the bridge where he parked his car. While his true cause of death was never released to public reports, the river was higher that day due to increased rain and it is likely that he was drowned after being trapped in quicksand.

Another interesting factor of Bonn’s study was how intense the pressure is underneath the surface. He concluded that to pull a foot out of quicksand at a rate of one centimeter per second would require the same force needed to lift a medium-sized car. So unless you’re a superhero or have a party of friends who aren’t stuck, it’s likely impossible you’d be able to free yourself by pulling yourself out.

Those who get stuck for hours, or even a whole day will likely suffer permanent nerve damage,chest pain or potentially an entire limb due to the high amounts of pressure to the body’slower half. So what do you do if you find yourself knees, waist or chest deep in this unforgiving substance? The first thing any expert will tell you is don’t panic.

Call for help if possible, but it’s not a strong strategy to have a friend reach over and try to pull you out, as you have a higher risk of pulling them in with you then of them actually being able to pull you out. Fast, panicked, and frantic movement will only expedite the sinking. The next move you should make is to remove any heavy objects off your person, like backpack sand your shoes if you’re able to.

Shoes can be particularly problematic because shoes with flexible soles can act as suction cups, and the suctioning effect can make freeing yourself even more difficult. Once you’ve found your legs are stuck, it’s important to move them slowly and deliberately as exhaustion is a major threat, because the getting out process could take hours if you’rein deep enough.

Next, wiggle your legs to allow water and space to flow through and loosen the cement-like sand. While it is not always possible, attempt to move backwards toward the more solid dirt,not forward to risk your head getting stuck. Then it’s time to redistribute your weight, which is the key of the whole operation. If you’re ankle or knee deep, slowly sit down, or if you’re waist deep, lean on your back.

While it might sound that this tactic would sink you further, a pit of quicksand is like a swimming pool, if you’re standing, you’ll sink but if you attempt to lie on your back and spread out, you’ll float to the surface. Continue to wiggle and calmly work at getting one leg unstuck at a time. Eventually, once one leg is free you have to just continue working to free your other one by wiggling and crawling back to the hard land.

You’ll probably be exhausted and sunburned, but you will have survived a daunting task,which many a movie and cartoon character are unable to say. So there it is, and while dangerous because of other contributing factors, like terrain,heat or wildlife, quicksand can’t actually kill you like most of us thought it could growing up watching old cartoons and westerns.

You won’t sink above you head, or get sucked into the earth. Although you will get really stuck, and it could take hours to free yourself, and if you’re by the ocean this could be deadly when high tide hits, so work deliberately. Why do you think movies used to portray quicksand this way?And why isn’t it nearly as popular in ones today? And most importantly? Did this clear up any of your own irrational fears about quicksand? Or did it just your fears stronger? Let us know in the comments.

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