Some Passengers Suffer Immersion Hypothermia After Amazing Landing

Plane Landing and Immersion Hypothermia

An amazing pilot guided a US Airways plane to a safe landing in the Hudson River after taking off from LaGuardia Airport yesterday. The passengers were rescued quickly, but several were reported to have suffered from immersion hypothermia.

Consider this fact. In 90% of drownings, a life jacket was not worn. The risk of drowning increases by 500% when the water temperature is under 59 degrees Fahrenheit.

What happens to people who are subjected to a sudden plunge or immersion into cold water?

* The victim will hyperventilate, which may lead to confusion, muscle spasm, and loss of consciousness.
* The cold water rapidly cools muscles causing the victim to loses the ability to swim or tread water.
* Muscles and nerves may become ineffective within 10 minutes.
* Over the ensuing hour, shivering occurs and then ceases.
* Anyone pulled from cold water should be presumed to be hypothermic regardless of the time immersed.

In terms of survival, the aphorism is that when a person is plunged into very cold water (32° F or 0° C), he or she has 1 minute to control breathing (e.g., to stop hyperventilating from the "gasp reflex"), 10 minutes of purposeful movement before the muscles are numb and not responsive, one hour before hypothermia leads to unconsciousness, and two hours until profound hypothermia causes death.

Anyone with a body temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit is considered to have mild hypothermia. It is best to get the person to a medical facility, but if there is no way to get to a medical facility within 30 minutes, a mildly hypothermic person should be rewarmed as follows.

Remove the wet clothing and provide warm dry clothing, blankets, and shelter.


Shivering is a very effective process especially when well insulated. Shivering should be fueled by calorie replacement with fluids containing sugars. The sugar content is actually more important than the heat in warm liquids. Make sure that the person is capable of ingesting liquids without aspirating. Alcohol and tobacco use should not be permitted because they constrict blood flow.

Light exercise such as walking produces heat but should only be attempted after a mildly hypothermic person is dry, has had calorie replacement and has been stable for at least 30 minutes. A warm shower or bath may be tolerated by an individual that is alert and mobile. However, this could be fatal to a moderate to severely hypothermic person and should be avoided in this case.

Anyone whose body temperature is below 90 degrees Fahrenheit should always be treated as a serious medical emergency. They should be immediately transported to a medical facility. There are some specific things you can do to help stabilize the individual prior to the arrival of paramedics.

Great care must be taken in handling a moderate or severely hypothermic person. Extraction from the water must be as gentle as possible to avoid precipitating ventricular fibrillation.

Arms, hands, feet and legs should not be rubbed or manipulated.

The person should be placed in a horizontal position and wet clothing should be gently removed and the body insulated as best as possible using dry blankets, clothing or other protective materials.

If shelter is available, keep the person protected from the elements and insulated from the cold ground or snow using sleeping bags, clothing, back packs or even evergreen boughs.

Cold Water Boot Camp