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Drowning doesn't look like drowning, experts warn

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SALT LAKE CITY — The phrase "drowning doesn't look like drowning" has been making the rounds on social media thanks to a recent viral blog post, and as many lifeguards will tell you, the signs of drowning may be harder to spot than you think.

The Hollywood version of drowning just isn't realistic. Lifeguards say most people wouldn't notice a drowning victim, even if they were just a couple yards away.

Rosalyn Kuhl, head lifeguard at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex, watches carefully for people who may be having trouble in the pool, including children who are having trouble swimming or may be getting too far away from their parents.

Lifeguards say parents should be very attentive, since drowning may not be as obvious as one would expect.

In one surveillance video, a 10-year-old child starts to go under, but no one seems to notice. A little more than five minutes later, a swimmer pulls him from the bottom of the pool.

"Hollywood definitely has the portrayal of a victim splashing everywhere, calling for help," said Colin O'Connor, the sports complex's head of aquatics.

Signs to watch for:
    Mouth and nose right around water level
  • Head tilted back
  • Victim may have glossy eyes
  • Victim won't be able to talk, much less scream

That's definitely not the case, though.

"It's pretty common for there to be a lot of people around the victim, and not notice at all that someone's in trouble," O'Connor said.

Lifeguards say that close observation is the kind of help they need. With so many people out there, it's tough to keep track of everyone all the time.

"Sometimes, you may not see any of those signs, so you need to be looking at the surface of the water and beneath it," Kuhl said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 3,500 people die from non-boating related drownings each year. Those most at risk are children 4 years old and under, with most of those drownings happening in home swimming pools.


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Mike Anderson


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