Did Rose kill Jack in Titanic? Cold Water Immersion

I attended the Extreme Medicine Conference in London and one of the most interesting topics was cold water immersion by Dr Gordon Giesbrecht. At the start of the lecture we were asked to vote, how long does it take for a person to die of hypothermia if he/she falls into an icy lake? Most thought perhaps a few minutes to half an hour. The answer? It does depend on the person's gender and body mass, but it's at least 90-120 minutes. Interestingly, short and overweight females with >30% body fat can survive twice as long as tall and lean males. Instead of hypothermia, one is more likely to die from drowning. 

How does it kill you? 4 phases of cold water immersion

1. Cold Shock
When a person falls into icy water, the sudden change in skin temperature causes a cold reaction. It triggers a gasp and then uncontrollable hyperventilation for about 1 minute. Panicking can also prolong hyperventilation. The gasp, or the rapid and uncontrolled breathing can cause water to be sucked into the lungs, thus drowning the person. Prolonged hyperventilation can lead to dizziness and fainting which again can cause a person to drown.

2. Cold incapacitation
Muscles and nerves work optimally at 37 degrees. Immersion in cold water leads to heat and circulation getting redirected to the core/vital organs. Peripheral muscles can paralyse, causing swim failure (even in good swimmers), also affecting your ability to hold onto objects to keep your head above water. Again, death is by drowning. Thrashing and swimming actually increases heat loss (compared to the heat gain generated from muscle movement) and exhaustion, and thus speed up the cold incapacitation process.

3. Hypothermia
Defined as core body temperature below 35 degrees, it actually takes about 30 minutes in icy water to reach this point. If the body temperature continues to drop, a person will become more confused and drowsy and eventually lose consciousness. This again can cause drowning. Ventricular fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm causing the heart to stop) and death may happen when the body temperature drops below 28 degrees.

4. Circum rescue collapse
If a person is lucky enough to be rescued (or about to be rescued), reduced adrenaline in the system may cause blood pressure to drop and a person to collapse and possibly have a cardiac arrest.

How to survive cold water immersion? 1-10-1 principle

Dr Giesbrecht proposed that you have 1 minute to get your breathing under control. The cold shock response can cause immediate drowning. If you have the choice, go into the water slowly and keep your head above water. A life jacket is vital to keep a person afloat while getting the breathing under control. Most importantly, try not to panic.

You have 10 minutes of meaningful movement before your peripheral muscles (ie limbs) stop working due to cold incapacitation. If you can get to a safe place in that time? Do it. You lose manual dexterity first, so try and do any fiddly tasks first eg putting on a life jacket (if you don't have one on already), tying knots or operating flares.

You have 1 hour before you become unconscious due to hypothermia. To buy time, get into a position to reduce heat loss - legs together close to chest, arms around legs/chest. Try and huddle with other people if present and get as far out of the water as possible.

For more info follow this link - http://beyondcoldwaterbootcamp.com/

So what happened in TItanic?

In the 1997 movie, Jack and Rose survived the Titanic sinking. Rose climbed onto a wooden board while Jack hung onto the side of it while immersed in the icy ocean. When Rose heard a rescue boat returning, she pushed Jack into the water while she swam towards the boat. A Mythbuster episode decided that they were probably in the water for about 63 minutes. This episode suggested both Jack and Rose could have shared that wooden board and thus both could have survived.

After the cold water immersion lecture, I have a different theory. Even if they hadn't shared the board, 63 minutes in icy water may not have killed Jack from hypothermia. Jack may have become unconscious from hypothermia, and his pulse may have been too slow to be detected easily, but he may well have been alive. Maybe Rose killed him by pushing him into the water to try and rescue herself? I can't blame her though, she could not have known any better.

So what do you think? Do you think they both could have survived?

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