When Quicksand Traps

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When quicksand traps! Tips to escape from sinking into quick sand, how to survive when you fall in quicksand on the beach, & avoiding it.

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Voiceover by Carl Mason: [email protected]

Quicksand is a mixture of water and fine granular material in the form of clay, silt or sand. Water saturates the granular material, causing it to become agitated and no longer capable of supporting weight. You can think of regular sand as a house of cards, in which the spaces between the cards is larger than the cards themselves. The spaces between the grains are filled out by water and the sand turns from a solid into a viscous substance. The collapse can be generated by weight, vibration or the upwards migration of water. While it may often appear solid, as it maintains a gel-like form, a sudden change in pressure can initiate liquefaction. Therefore, a person or an animal walking on quicksand will begin to sink. Getting out can be very difficult, particularly if you start struggling and moving erratically. Once the sand has liquefied, the resulting mixture traps the body in place. The forces required to loosen the mix and pull out of the quicksand fast are comparable to those necessary for lifting a small car.

Quicksand can essentially form wherever water and grainy material are present. There are, however, certain areas where quicksand is more likely to occur. These include lake shorelines, beaches, river banks, marshes or anywhere near underground springs. There are two main ways in which sand can become agitated enough for quicksand to form. One is the upwards flow of underground water, which opposes gravity and causes granules to become more buoyant. The other is earthquakes. The forceful vibration of the ground can cause shallow groundwater to liquefy sand and silt deposits. The surface thus loses strength causing building or other objects in the affected area to sink or fall over.

It’s unlikely you’d drown in quicksand due to the difference in density between the viscous mixture and the human body. Quicksand has a density of about 125 pounds per cubic foot while the average human is nearly half as dense. You can float on quicksand more easily than on water. To actually drown in quicksand, with it gradually invading your airways, you’d have to fall in face first and then be unable to pull your head out. It’s a gruesome perspective but such occurrences are rare. The most likely scenario is that one or both of your legs will become trapped inside. Struggling and agitated movement will only make you sink faster. However, living things sink to the level that their weight displaces an equal weight of quicksand, due to buoyancy. What this means is that you’ll only sink about waist deep. The main problem is that you can become trapped and unable to move for hours and even days on end.

There are few steps to take towards avoiding quicksand all together. Be on the lookout for sand that has ripples in the texture. You should be able to see water seeping up from below. Carry a walking stick and test the surface prior to stepping on it. It you do find yourself trapped inside, don’t panic. Surviving quicksand is a matter of remaining calm and understanding that it’s very unlikely it will swallow you whole. Take deep breaths, to increase your buoyancy, and avoid frantic movement. Your first instinct will most likely be to pull out by sheer force but you should try to resist it. The mixture you’re in is like fast-drying wet concrete. You’re basically working against a vacuum left behind by movement so it’s very important not to panic and flail your limbs. Movement should be slow and with a clear purpose so that you reduce viscosity and avoid sinking further. Drop your backpack and whatever you’re carrying. It might sound counter-intuitive but the best thing you can do is to lie on your back and spread your weight. This allows your legs to float back to the surface. If you can find an anchoring point in the environment, grab on and slowly drag yourself towards it. If you can’t find an anchor, move your arms in a swimming motion to propel yourself backwards. Make sure to keep your body spread out since direct pressure may cause you to sink back in. The objective is to inch yourself towards solid ground, then roll on to it. It may require some time and effort before you’re free and battling quicksand can be exhausting. Take breaks as often as you need to and keep your composure.

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