“If water enters the airways of a conscious victim the victim will try to cough up the water or swallow it thus inhaling more water involuntarily. Upon water entering the airways, both conscious and unconscious victims experience laryngospasm, that is the larynx or the vocal cords in the throat constrict and seal the air tube. This prevents water from entering the lungs. Because of this laryngospasm, water enters the stomach in the initial phase of drowning and very little water enters the lungs.” – WIkipedia
I remember that point in which I had swallowed the water…it was utter loneliness and the realization that I am drowning. A terrible moment, and one of the worst of all near-death experiences… an empty, pitch-black darkness and a singular loneliness… when that sinking feeling (stupid pun intended) becomes all too real.
And, when all hope was lost, and the mind was preparing for the final stage – unconsciousness, two hands pulled me up to a raft. Fortunately, there was atleast one raft behind us and they could paddle good enough to come to the proper spot.
How did I end up in this mess? My raft had collapsed after hitting a rock in the white-water course in the Alaknanda River near the Himalayas (Uttarakhand). This happens if the rafters weights are not balanced or if one group in the raft doesn’t paddle properly to change directions. Usually nothing happens since everyone wears a life jacket and experts are nearby to rescue you.
But in my case it was an improbably unlucky event, as the rafting expert couldn’t see me because I was “under” the toppled raft, head down, legs up, trying to grasp the raft or a rope hoping someone on the raft would pull me up (this was the instruction given to us by the expert before we started the course).
My life-jacket ensured I didn’t sink, but being a non-swimmer, I couldn’t get my head up the water because of the strong current of the rapids near the rock. Luckily, one raft colleague who got rescued alerted the team following us that there was still one guy trapped below the capsized raft…and finally after ONE WHOLE MINUTE under water, I was pulled out.
Geez. Try holding your breath for one minute. Now try doing the same under water. Next try doing it when the water is icy cold at around 4 – 5 degrees C. Add some swift water currents to the mix. Now you know what am talking about.
7 rafts along the river, with 6 novices vs 1 or 2 experts in each. I keep thinking, what if my raft was the LAST one and no raft had followed behind us? Worse, the raft behind us (which too had majority first-timers paddling) could have missed me or the river current could have taken it a distance away or they could have collapsed themselves.
It also shows us the futility of life-jackets. They are not foolproof in the case of non-swimmers, as sometimes you can get trapped head-down under the raft and get pulled by the river currents.
Some 10 minutes after the rescue, I could breathe normally after a few heavy burps because of the enormous amount of water I had swallowed. Am I ever going to do white water rafting again? Yes, if there are two experts for every single novice in the raft. Any ratio lower than this is unsafe and reckless, and should be banned by the Govt. (Am defining a “Novice” as someone who is rafting for the first time and doesn’t know to swim).
Am having a painful sinus infection after the river water entered my nose and eyes…and have lost my expensive spectacles. But I can happily live with this for a couple of days…as it feels a whole lot better than that other “sinking” feeling.
To see how a capsized raft can kill, click on this link: 2001 rafting accident (BBC)