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Quicksand

The content below is from Episode 123 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast

ANNOUNCEMENT

I dedicate this episode to my good friend Tanner Link. During my Bachelor Party, my friend Devon Heffley and I were talking about some other episodes he liked (his favorite is the Japan Cow episode). That is when Tanner turned around and said “You know, what is quicksand? THAT is something I would want to learn more about. As a kid I thought it was going to be a major problem to look out for, but I haven’t encountered quicksand… not even once!”

RECOMMENDATION SEGMENT

  • This week I recommend you watch the Terminal List on Amazon Prime.
    • I do like action movies. NOT ALL action movies/shows as a lot of them have lazy writing that steals ideas from about 100+ action movies that came before it, but some action stories stand out.
    • The Terminal List starring Chris Pratt is a stand-out action story.
    • Here’s the plot:
      • James Reece (played by Chris Pratt) returns home after his entire platoon of Navy SEALs is ambushed, only to discover new dark forces working against him and endangering the ones he loves.
    • I wasn’t sure if Chris Pratt could play a hard-hitting action hero in a serious story. Sure he has played a supporting character as a Navy Seal in Zero Dark Thirty, but he was a side character. And I know he has been awesome as Star Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but he is comedic relief there.
    • I was surprised by how well he portrays an ultra-badass SEAL commander in this show.
    • He also worked out VERY hard for this role and his SEAL fitness training paid off. He looks JACKED, miles away from the chubby Andy from Parks and Rec.
Pratt on Parks and Rec
Pratt in Zero Dark Thirty
Pratt as Star Lord in Guardians fo the Galaxy
Pratt in the Terminal List
You have to respect a guy who goes from being a chubby dude living out of a van on the beach to playing Navy SEAL roles

NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT

  • We all know about quicksand. It haunted our childhoods as this ominous ground formation promising nothing but a horror-filled death that could be lurking around any corner!
    • It was in so many movies from my childhood.
    • It was in a LOT of action-adventure films as a trope that any patch of ground could be deadly.
    • A character would be wandering around and all of a sudden they would look down and the camera would zoom out to reveal they have been sinking into the ground to their demise.
    • They would squirm to get free, but someone was always be around to remind them that struggling only made them sink faster.
    • If the character trapped in quicksand was lucky they would have a rope or vine to try and get out. Most characters escaped, but just barely while some were smothered with wet soil filling their lunges. Usually they had a hat or scarf that would be left floating at the surface as a grim reminder of the quicksand’s victim.
    • According to the BBC: “There are so many films featuring death by quicksand that Slate journalist Daniel Engbar has even tracked the peak quicksand years in film. In the 1960s, one in 35 films featured quicksands. They were in everything from Lawrence of Arabia to The Monkees.”
  • Quicksand claimed victims like…
    • Eddie Izzard died on: Renegade / Blueberry (2004) [Prosit]: Stumbles into quicksand and drowns.
    • William Shatner: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972) [George Stapleton]: Drowned in a pool of quicksand when the hound knocks him into it. (Thanks to C.A.)
    • Roy Scheider: The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964) [Philip Sinclair]: Drowned in quicksand when Hugh Franklin knocks him into it, while Roy is trying to throw Candace Hilligoss into the quicksand.
    • Ron Perlman: Picture Windows: Lightning (1995) [Plummer]: Drowned in quicksand, while Kathleen Quinlan looks on, gleefully refusing to help him.
    • Gary Oldman: Sin (2003) [Charlie Strom]: Shot to death by Ving Rhames and sinks into the quicksand.
    • There are other victims on films such as the Princess Bride to Lawrence of Arabia
    • Most of these films were before the 2000s. With the most recent quicksand scene coming from Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto… with all of its historical inaccuracies, that movie was entertaining.
Blazing Saddles
Apocalypto
A mashup of a bunch of quicksand scenes throughout the ages
  • So what is this sinister material that has claimed the lives of such fictional Hollywood giants?
    • Quicksand is made of sand and moisture (water). Sand is made of fine granular materials like silt and clay. What makes sand quicksand is when it becomes saturated with water.
      • Saturation: the state or process that occurs when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with, or added.
      • The water causes the sand particles to separate and then can no longer support as much weight.
    • This is why quicksand most commonly occurs in river deltas.
    • Quicksand appears solid, but behaves like a liquid and cannot support something with great enough mass… such as an animal or person. It is spooky stuff on paper.
  • What actually happens when someone walks or runs onto quicksand?
    • The idea is that whatever being or object steps on the water-saturated sand will become trapped and sink to the bottom. The more they struggle the more they sink.
    • That’s partially true. You can become stuck in Quicksand, but typically only the legs become submerged. They are dense, but your torso (which contains air-filled lunges) is less likely to sink.
    • The sand separates when it is stepped on. The sand moves away from the force that is exuded upon it. That makes the leg (or whatever) sink further down, but when the sand mixes with water again the buoyancy increases and this allows the quicksand to support a dense object.
    • So when considering that quicksand occurs most frequently next to large bodies of water the danger increases. If someone is trapped in quicksand possibly up to their waist or even neck, they are vulnerable. And because quicksand occurs most frequently in river deltas and bays, a high tide could drown the trapped victim.
  • Nicola Raybone, a 33 year old British tourist was found dead in August of 2012 on the Caribbean island of Antigua.
    • Officials investigated this mysterious death and concluded that she had wandered onto quicksand and died when the high tide came in.
    • The coroner stated “Her family went to look for her but it was going dark. It was easy to sink deep into the sand. The beach sloped and it became pitch black. The tide that night was very rough and high.”
  • Quicksand also becomes quite dense and the pressure can cause damage to human tissue.
    • If someone is trapped for too long they can lose blood flow… That’s not good.
      • The intense pressure on your legs can cause deep vein thrombosis.
        • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in the body, usually in the legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling. Sometimes there are no noticeable symptoms. You can get DVT if you have certain medical conditions that affect how the blood clots.
      • If someone is unlucky enough to become trapped up to their neck, the pressure from the concrete-like quicksand can inhibit proper breathing.
  • What is the science behind quicksand?
    • Daniel Bonn from the University of Amsterdam was in Iran when he saw signs by a lake warning visitors of the dangers of quicksand. He took a small sample back to his lab, analyzed the proportions of clay, salt water and sand, and then recreated quicksand for his experiment.
    • Bonn’s research showed that just to release one foot, you would need to provide a force of 100,000 newtons – the equivalent of the strength to lift a medium-sized car.
    • Bonn’s team found that salt was an essential ingredient because it increased the instability of quicksand, leading to the formation of these dangerous areas of thick sediment. But then another team, this time from Switzerland and Brazil, discovered a kind of quicksand that doesn’t need salt. They tested samples from the shores of a lagoon in north eastern Brazil. They found that bacteria formed a crust on the top of the soil, giving the impression of a stable surface, but when stepped on the surface collapsed. But even then the good news is that basins formed from this kind of soil are very rarely deeper than the height of a human, so even if someone did slip into the quicksand they wouldn’t drown.  
  • What to do if trapped in quicksand?
    • Prevention can be effective.
      • Quicksand doesn’t envelope you up to your waist instantly. It takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to be submerged up to your waist in super-saturated quicksand. So the best thing to do is try to get out of it yourself.
    • If it is past that point and you cannot get out, The first thing you want to do is call for help.
      • Panicking doesn’t help so try and calm yourself down. It can be terrifying to realize you are virtually helpless and stuck, but there is a very good chance you will get out of it. Try to call for help and urge someone to call coastguard rescue. They are trained to help in these situations.
      • But know that the extraction procedure isn’t simple. Rescue crews usually bring a big lightweight board with a hole cut out of the middle. They place the board around the victim and use the board to distribute their weight while they work on getting you out. The force necessary to get a victim out of quicksand can be equivalent to the force needed to tow a car, so they have their work cut out for them.
      • Rescue crews will use a hose attached to a special pole to flood the area around the trapped victim with water. This over-saturates the quicksand and increases the buoyancy.
    • If no one is around to call for rescue, try to sit down and lie down.
      • This makes your footprint bigger for your weight. It distributes your weight out more evenly and makes it more difficult for the quicksand to separate around you… it slows or halts your sinking.
      • According to the BBC: You need to wiggle your leg a little in order to introduce water to the sand around your feet to liquefy the sand again. The idea is to stay calm (which might be easier said than done), lean back and spread out to spread your weight more evenly and wait until you float back up to the surface.
        • I love how ambiguous and confusing that is “wiggle and wait to float back up to the top.” The physics of that make little sense to me.
  • Let’s recap for a second here:
    • Quicksand was made to look like a major dangerous threat for decades by Hollywood, but it doesn’t work like that.
    • Quicksand is actually sand that behaves like liquid after becoming saturated with water, but it doesn’t kill like it does in the movies because quicksand is denser than the human body.
    • Our limbs might get stuck, but we won’t sink completely.
    • Avoid quicksand, but if stuck you can call for help or try to lay flat to distribute your weight.
    • From the encyclopedia Britannica: “Moving won’t cause you to sink. In fact, slow back-and-forth movements can actually let water into the cavity around a trapped limb, loosening the quicksand’s hold. Getting out will take a while, though. Physicists have calculated that the force required to extract your foot from quicksand at a rate of one centimeter per second is roughly equal to the force needed to lift a medium-sized car. One genuine danger is that a person who is immobilized in quicksand could be engulfed and drowned by an incoming tide—quicksands often occur in tidal areas—but even these types of accidents are very rare.”
  • Ok, that is all fine and dandy. Quicksand isn’t nearly as dangerous as the movies make it out to be… but I just watched a dude from National Geographic’s show I Didn’t Know That voluntarily jump into quicksand and it looked terrifying…
    • The video is at the bottom of the blog if you’d like to check it out.
    • The Nat Geo guy went to a UK village that has loads of quicksand due to the town’s geography. He went to the local coast guard which has experience with quicksand rescue and made sure they were on standby to rescue him and then he just stood in the muckiest spot possible.
    • After I read how quicksand isn’t nearly as dangerous as you think from a bunch of sources, I expected it to be underwhelming and the host of the show would laugh about how tame the whole experience was… but that’s not what happened…
    • Nerdy Nat Geo guy started to sink and he was excited because it was his first time experiencing such a thing. I would probably be excited too because as long as I thought I was safe with the coast guard there, I would definitely be in that quicksand. And while this is all going on the most senior coast guard guy name George with all this many… many wrinkles and tough exterior was calm and almost bored looking.
    • Then NErdy NAt Geo science guy named Johnny started to express panic, “Um, I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable about the whole situation… could you please start rescuing me now?” LOL
      • It almost seemed like Coast Guard George was drunk and indifferent to the situation.
    • As Nat Geo Johnny was asking to be rescued, the Coast Guard was casually telling him how it could stop blood flow and cause a clot to form in his legs…
    • The whole situation didn’t seem as casual as all the encyclopedia sources said it was. It seemed downright horrible and I think MOST people would immediately start panicking when they realized they were completely immobilized.
    • Even if you get your nerve and start wiggling your way to freedom your will would be strained after an hour of only making very little progress to free yourself.
  • So My conclusion is that Quicksand doesn’t work like it does in the movies, but you should DEFINITELY avoid it. At the very least you are going to be exhausted, dirty, wet, and have a bunch of rescue people disgruntled. At the worst, you will be drowned. That is for wet quick sand…
  • Dry quicksand is another story.
    • If you fall into something like an agricultural silo full of grain you better hope there is help that can rescue you and that it is very close by.
    • There was a farmer from Germany who fell in to a big grain store silo back in 2002. He was able to call for help and a family member called for rescue, but by the time fire&rescue arrived and were able to determine the silo the man was trapped in, he was already stuck up to his armpits and sinking fast.
    • Every time this farmer took a breath it made his chest heave in and out. This made the grain fill in the room left after every exhale and increase the pressure on his chest.
    • They were able to get a doctor to see the farmer and provide a source of oxygen incase he sunk below is head. The doctor also put a harness around his chest to try and pull him up. But that is when the farmer started to have severe chest pains from the pressure and the doctor was incapacitated by an asthma attack from the grain dust.
    • Luckily this story ends well with the firefighters coming up with an unorthodox plan. They lowered a cylinder over the farmer’s body and sucked the grain out with an industrial vacuum. This kept the grain from falling any tighter around the farmer and he survived.
  • But that is not the typical result from someone sinking into dry quicksand.
    • A farmer in the UK was inspecting his corn stock for a weevil infestation when the grain gave way beneath him. The weevils, along with condensation and germination, had weakened the dry corn and created room for the massive pile to shift.
    • This had also caused a solid layer to build up at the top of the silo which the farmer Mr Nicholls decided needed to be cleared to enable the silo to be emptied.
    • He climbed into the silo and began delivering buckets of the corn when the pile he was standing on gave way. He began to sink fast. Mr Nicholls’s relative and farm hand Mark went in after him, but couldn’t find Mr Nicholls with his frantic digging.
    • “As soon as he went I jumped in straight after and tried to dig down to him, but I couldn’t reach him,” Mark said.
    • Mark raised an alarm, but because Mr Nicholls didn’t have a harness on when he went in, he was considered dead almost immediately.
    • Apparently, this happens quite frequently and everyone is discouraged from ever entering a silo with free-flowing grain.
  • So yeah, that’s horrifying. I still think wet quicksand is horrible. I started this episode thinking I was going to totally debunk quicksand and how it wasn’t dangerous at all. Turns out that wet quicksand is a terrifying experience in the best-case scenario where rescue crews are on standby and you CAN die from it. And Dry quicksand is an almost guaranteed death.
  • The only reassuring thing here is that you probably won’t encounter quicksand in your life. Just be cautious around sandy waterways, rainforests, wet concrete, and grain silos, and you should be fine.

THANKS FOR LISTENING (and reading) WHO’D A THUNKERS!

Until next week

CREDIT:

1:00

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