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The visible behaviour of drowning persons: a pilot observational study using analytic software and a Nominal Group Technique

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Although drowning is a common phenomenon, the behaviour of drowning persons is poorly understood. The purpose of this study is to provide a quantitative and qualitative analysis of this behaviour. This was an observational study of drowning videos observed by 20 international experts in the field of water safety. For quantitative analysis, each video was analysed with Lince observation software by four participants. A Nominal Group Technique generated input for the qualitative analysis and the two principal investigators conducted a post-hoc analysis. A total of 87.5% of the 23 videos showed drowning in swimming pools, 50% of the drowned persons were male, and 58.3% were children or teenagers. Nineteen persons were rescued before unconsciousness and showed just the beginning of downing behaviour. Another five were rescued after unconsciousness, which allowed the observation of their drowning behaviour from the beginning to the end. Significant differences were found comparing both groups regarding the length of disappearances underwater, number, and length of resurfacing (resp. p = 0.003, 0.016, 0.005) and the interval from the beginning of the incident to the rescue (p = 0.004). All persons drowned within 2 min. The qualitative analysis showed previously suggested behaviour patterns (immediate disappearance n = 5, distress n = 6, instinctive drowning response n = 6, climbing ladder motion n = 3) but also a striking new pattern (backward water milling n = 19). This study confirms previous assumptions of drowning behaviour and provides novel evidence-based information about the large variety of visible behaviours of drowning persons. New behaviours, which mainly include high-frequency resurfacing during a struggle for less than 2 min and backward water milling, have been recognised in this study.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6930
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume17
Issue number18
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sep 2020

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