In media, drowning is a horrible, protracted struggle where the victim flails against the uncaring water and screams for help again and again. At times she slips below the surface but strength born of panic and desperation will bring her back up for air. Finally, all hope gone, her exhausted frame fails her and she goes down for the last time. She may even have a moment to say her Last Words
or shed a Single Tear
In reality, a drowning victim paddles quietly for a few moments and sinks. She is too busy struggling for air to yell or scream, nor can she control her arms enough to wave or signal for help. Instincts are running the show, and they're ineffectually trying to flap her arms against the water to push her mouth above the surface. An untrained onlooker may not even notice that anything's wrong. Professionals keep a watch for telltale signs, like the inability of a swimmer to keep her mouth above water, or to respond when spoken to.
The splashing-and-screaming reaction does sometimes occur — it's what many people do right before they start to drown, and no less an emergency — but not all drowning victims do it. So the lack of a scene does not mean that things are all right.
Kids in particular are noisy swimmers, and it's more worrying if they're quiet. This is especially true for toddlers who still have a diving reflex. A small child who falls into water will just hold her breath and sink to the ground. Toddlers have drowned in public pools with a crowd of people around them.
As morbid as the reality may seem, in fact it's even worse. Swimming after someone who's panicked will not only fail to kick off a Rescue Romance
and a subplot about fame, but may very well kill you. If you come within her reach, she will
grab you and bear you under in a futile attempt to breathe. An important part of layman's water rescue is knowing when to cut your losses
and let the victim drown. Another is knowing how to fight her off and flee. This is why trained lifeguards employ life rings or other floating devices which can be thrown
to a drowning victim, allowing rescue while maintaining a safe distance.
This article should be limited to aversions and egregious
examples: tropers cannot be asked to tell if King Graham's drowning animation
is realistic enough, unless the process is depicted in detail and gotten wrong.
See also Last Grasp at Life
, Super Drowning Skills
Anime & Manga
- Subverted in Detective Conan: a woman seems to be drowning in the "flailing and bobbing" manner which everyone can see from across the beach and rescue her from. It turns out she wasn't drowning at all; she was faking to see if her fiancee would try and rescue her even though he couldn't swim (which her friend, the only one she told beforehand, takes as a chance to kill her without suspicion).
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam's near-drowning occurs without much flailing or noise. Frodo knows he's drowning because he knows Sam can't swim.
- In Rise of the Guardians, Jack Frost drops through thin ice and only flails for half a second, as the combination of freezing water and lack of air gets the better of him very quickly.
- In a short story by Bjorn Bjornsterne, called "The Father," a young man drowns after falling out of a boat. He struggles quietly for a few seconds, then rolls over on his back. As the body sinks to the ground and the bubbles stop rising his father realizes that his son has drowned.
- Rescue 911
- "Twin Drowning": The mother realizes that something's wrong when she hears a conspicuous silence.
- "Two-Year-Old Pool Save": The mother checks the pool the moment she notices her youngest child is missing, and finds it empty, but doesn't post a watch on it before searching the house.
- "Texas Pool Tot": The mother turns her back to the pool for 20 seconds.
- "Double Football Player": A man pulls a boy out of a whirlpool in a river, and once the kid is secure, the rescuer drowns and dies. An onlooker comments that she didn't see him give any sign of distress, and she didn't realize that anything was wrong until he started going under.
- "Motel Toddler Plunge": It doesn't really count since the kid falls from a third-story window and may well go unconscious on impact.
- For the record, a number of other segments are known to feature drowning, but have not been checked one way or the other: "Potomac River" (s2e11), "Regatta Rescue" (s3e11), "911 My Baby Drowned" (s3e27), "11-Year-Old CPR Save" (s4e6), "911 Nurse's Bathtub Baby" (s5e1), "911 Son in the Spa" (s5e25).
- Waist Deep In the Big Muddy: "We heard a gurgling cry; a second later, the captain's helmet was all that floated by."
- The Dragon Doctors: In a spiritual realm that's still enough to do the job; the victim appears in an ocean without boundaries presided over by a drowning spirit; the chilly water completely saps her strength over the course of a handful of panels and she sinks beneath the waves.
- In ThunderCats (2011) Lion-O drowns after falling into a river and being pinned under a boulder.
- In Photopia, a work-at-home mom hears a splash, and when she looks outside, her daughter is floating face down in the pool. The game notes the mother's restraint in taking the stairs five at a time instead of throwing herself down the staircase.
Cough splutter gasp ack:
- The Green Hornet really played up the loud flailing and splashing and even a roughly intelligible yell of "I can't swim". The drowner is saved with an inflatable lobster.
- It's done in-universe in the second Addams Family movie. Campers are learning lifeguarding techniques. The Alpha Bitch, a "great actress", jumps in to pretend to drown with a display of worried shouts and flailing arms.
- In Peanuts, Peppermint Patty flunks an English test and describes and re-enacts a dramatic drowning in grammar, complete with going down three times (and sputtering commas).
- Common in Looney Tunes, particularly when Wile E. Coyote is drowning. Complete with the hand coming up with fingers enumerating "one... two... three..."