D.C.

Drowning can be deceptively quiet, lifeguards say

Decrease Increase Text size

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Nearly a dozen people have drowned in the D.C. area this summer, including children who were just a few feet away from an adult. 

Photo: Bentilley via Flickr

About 400 children drown every year in the U.S. within 25 feet of a parent or other adult. Experts say it happens so often because drowning is a deceptively quiet event. 

Drowning doesn't look like it does on television and in movies. 

Ngo Tekwe Forchick, 19, drowned in the Potomac River last month, even though his friends were with him. Crews searched for three days and then had to tell his mother they had found her son's body.

“It’s a pain that I don’t know how to explain,” says Dorothy Fongun. “It is a really difficult thing for me to overcome.”

In late June, Hafis Kareem drowned in a Rockville pool while swimming after-hours with friends.

Earlier this summer at a community pool in Bethesda, lifeguard and pool manager Colleen Hamm helped save a 12-year-old boy from drowning.

“[I] didn’t hear anything. No splashing involved. They’re too worried about breathing in water and they slowly sink down,” she says.

Hamm says her experience has shown her that people who are drowning don't create much attention. 

"They're too worried about breathing in water and they slowly sink down."

Experts call it the “instinctive drowning response.” They explain people can’t yell for help because the body can't gasp for air and yell at the same time. Their mouths are not above the surface of the water long enough to do both. 

Experts also say drowning swimmers can't wave for help because their arms are busy trying to push their head out of the water. That's also why they can't reach for a piece of rescue equipment or move toward a rescuer. 

You can't see their legs frantically kicking because their bodies stay upright. 

Experts say people who are drowning can only struggle on the surface of the water for 20 to 60 seconds before going under. 

Look for these signs of drowning when people are in the water:

- Head low in the water, mouth at water level
- Head tilted back with mouth open
- Hair is covering their forehead or eyes
- Trying to swim in a particular direction without making any headway
- Appear to be treading water or swimming doggie-paddle style
- Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
- Trying to roll over on their back

One way to find out if someone is drowning is to yell to them “Are you OK?" If they can’t answer, they’re in trouble.

Would you know what to do if you saw a swimmer drowning? The American Red Cross offers important information.

Recommended For You