Findings: Titanic victims in 'cold shock'

May 24, 2002

When the Titanic went down, it tipped 1,489 people into the icy Atlantic Ocean, writes Caroline Davis. Although all were wearing lifejackets and the water was calm, none survived longer than two hours. The official inquiry gave drowning as the cause of death in all cases, although evidence pointed to hypothermia.

By the second world war, hypothermia was recognised as a significant problem, but soon came to be seen as the only problem associated with immersion in cold water, said Michael Tipton, professor of pure and applied physiology in the sport and exercise department of Portsmouth University.

"Research shows that the vast majority of people die within minutes," Professor Tipton said. "Two-thirds die within 10ft of safe refuge - and 60 per cent of those are good swimmers."

Contrary to popular belief, he explained, most people who fall into cold water do not die of hypothermia as deaths occur too quickly.

Instead, they are incapacitated by "cold shock", a set of responses seen on initial immersion that include uncontrollable hyperventilation and an increased heart rate that is triggered by a rapid fall in skin temperature and is responsible for most deaths within minutes of hitting the water.

Subjects cannot hold their breath for more than a few seconds, increasing the likelihood of taking in water and drowning. And increased stress on the heart can prompt a heart attack.

Professor Tipton's work has applications from the military through to the oil industry and leisure activities. Up to 10 million people in the UK take part in water-based leisure activities every year and 700 people die by drowning.

Understanding the body's reaction to cold water immersion and subsequently developing appropriate emergency procedures and aids could save many lives.

The research group's latest results will be presented at the International Conference on Environmental Ergonomics in Japan later this year.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study