There is a lot of misinformation about quicksand out there, from how it traps people who accidentally fall in to how to get out. The good news is that getting stuck in quicksand doesn’t have to lead to an unfortunate outcome. Here’s what you need to know to avoid turning a problem that has a simple solution into a life and death struggle.
What is Quicksand
Quicksand forms in areas where underground water pools into the material that makes up the ground above. Areas of quicksand can be found near beaches or shorelines, marshes, swamps, rivers or any area where groundwater reaches the surface. They type of material that makes up the soil composition, including sand, clay and a variety of soils all contribute to the type of quicksand that forms. Quicksand-like formations can also develop during earthquakes as the ground beneath undergoes a temporary process called liquefaction.
The good news is that pockets of quicksand are not that deep, and nobody has died from being sucked all the way into the pit. However, many people have died because they took inappropriate measures to get out or drowned with the rising tide. In fact, most pockets only go down a few feet before the density of the ground beneath supports the body instead of pulling it under.
How it Works
As the body becomes submerged in quicksand, it displaces water that is mixed in with the soil. As the water leaves, gaps form and cause the material in the soil to separate, causing the ground to literally dissolve beneath your feet. Once the body breaks through the surface, the separated material begins to mold around the legs, arms and lower body. This mold forms a grip that is extremely difficult to climb out of, but it doesn’t need to pull you all the way down.
The characteristics of quicksand, particularly when salt water is involved, change within a few feet in depth, giving the body buoyancy. This is what makes it almost impossible to get sucked all the way down and drown. However, it’s still important to know how to escape, because most deaths are attributed to victims making poor choices.
How to Escape
The first two rules for getting out of quicksand are not to panic and don’t let someone pull you straight up and out. The easiest thing to do in most cases is to tread as you would if you were in water, but do it very slowly. This will help to stabilize you while causing water to fill in the spaces that have molded against your legs and lower body.
The next step is to try and maneuver yourself as though you were going to float on your back in a pool. Start to lean back, inhale to expand your torso and slowly kick your lower body up with your legs. Remember, the trick is to make slow, deliberate movements because rushing will prevent water from filling in the voids you are creating, and you’ll end up spinning your wheels without making any real progress.
Once you’ve made it into a semi-horizontal position, you can start to swim or tread your way to the edge of the pit, or you can meander into a shallower where you can plant your feet and stand up. If someone is helping you, make sure that you’re almost in the horizontal position before they start pulling. The goal is have them pull while your upper body is almost gliding across or near to the surface.
Quicksand is found in more areas than many people think, so it’s important to know what to do just in case you get stuck in a pit. It’s also important to always use good situational awareness and avoid areas that may may have pits, because they aren’t always easy to notice from a distance as well.
Remember that an encounter with quicksand in real life is very different than what we see in movies or cartoons. Just as with drowning, the best advice is not to panic, conserve your energy and think things through if you accidentally fall in.