Fiction vs reality: What drowning really looks like and the warn - KPTV - FOX 12

Fiction vs reality: What drowning really looks like and the warning signs to watch for

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People at High Rocks in Gladstone Thursday. (KPTV) People at High Rocks in Gladstone Thursday. (KPTV)
People enjoying High Rocks in Gladstone Thursday. (KPTV) People enjoying High Rocks in Gladstone Thursday. (KPTV)
The AMR River Rescue station at High Rocks. (KPTV) The AMR River Rescue station at High Rocks. (KPTV)

There’s a big difference between dramatic Hollywood drowning scenes and what drowning victims really look like, and as more people head to local waterways to cool off this week, experts want to make sure you know the warning signs to watch for.

“It’s a very silent process. I have a local mom whose son drowned with her less than 10 feet away,” said Justine Kilsby.

Kilsby heads up the AMR River Rescue Program, which privately funds lifeguard stations at High Rocks in Gladstone and Glenn Otto Park in Troutdale during the summer months.

She said while people often think drowning victims yell for help and splash around before going under, that’s simply not the case.

“Hollywood has really done the public a big disservice,” she explained. “When someone is trying to breathe, they can no longer keep their head above water – they definitely don’t have air to yell for help. They’re using their hands to keep themselves afloat, they’re not going to wave at you or make a lot of noise. There won’t be a lot of splashing, their hands and their feet are underwater.”

Most people she’s pulled from the water have gone from safe to struggling in less than 10 seconds, she said.

“Comfortable swimmers tend to be horizontal, they’re making forward progress, so when someone stops moving forward and gets very vertical that’s a really big warning sign,” she said. “When people get really tired they tend to come into this vertical position with their head back trying to keep their mouth above water, and it’s kind of the last stage before someone submerges.”

That’s exactly what happened just last week, when Kilsby rescued a 17-year-old boy who jumped in at High Rocks and tried swimming across the river, but couldn’t make it.

“He tried to cross the current and right when he was trying to get out, he kind of ran out of steam and went vertical and was starting to dunk under when I grabbed him,” Kilsby recalled.

She recommends parents not only keep a constant eye on their children in the water, but also keep them within arm’s length in case they do start to struggle.

The best tool for preventing drownings are life jackets.

If you do see someone in trouble, the first step is always to call 911.

If you can, throw out a floatation device rather than getting in yourself, but if you do pull someone out of the water start CPR until medics can get there.

Kilsby also said don’t wait until you’re sure there’s an emergency to call 911, because by then it might be too late.

“That kid that I pulled out earlier had quite a few people on land who were watching him very carefully. They weren’t quite sure what was wrong yet, but they knew something wasn’t right,” she said. “Most people can recognize something’s not quite right here. Call 911 right away. We’re much happier to come, see that everything’s okay and call it a day than to have something happen when we weren’t there.”

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