Learn How to Escape from Quicksand


Apparently, almost everything we learned about falling into quicksand from the movies is wrong. On celluloid, after falling in, the poor actor gradually sinks deeper and deeper until the last part we see is but a single hand reaching up, before it too, becomes submerged. Some bubbles rise to the surface and then everything is still. In "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (Hammer film's 1959)- starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, we witness a young woman sink without trace into a quagmire. In the 1980's film of "Flash Gordon" the hero, played by Sam Jones, manages to fall into quicksand. Even the kids can have the full experience as with Disney's "Jungle Book" (1994) they get to see the big bad guy slowly going under. It's funny, but in all the movies you'll notice that quicksand only ever appears in pools approximately 2 by 4 metres. It probably doesn't help that, we can now see just how crappy these effects really were. Normally, it's just a pool of water with some floating sawdust. Audiences certainly wouldn't buy that today.

In the land of movies, we will almost certainly all drown as we sink deeper and deeper into the mass of moving sands. On the other hand, if you were an actress appearing higher up in the film's credits, then there's always the chance that you can be pulled clear by the macho hero armed with a long stick or a branch. But back in the real world, you can't sink any lower than your waist. Also, it's impossible for another person to pull you out. In short, though quicksand can kill you, it won't be in the fashion you'd think. Let's have a look at all things quick-sandy.

What Is Quicksand?

Putting on our physics hat, we can say that quicksand is a non-Newtonian fluid. In simple terms this means it can change its ability to flow (viscosity) in response to stress. It's a mixture of two different phases of matter that can pack themselves together to produce a solid surface, but will collapse from either weight or vibration. Though it has solid appearance, it's actually more like a gel. By stepping on it, you'll lesson it's surface viscosity and so start to sink. Now when you stop stepping, the particles of sand under your feet get compressed with your weight. 

Quicksand can be formed by many different materials, providing that there are two in opposite form. So you can have the traditional sand and water, clay and water, silt and water, sediment and water and even just plain sand and air. The mass is accounted by the solid material, with the particles separated by a larger space than you'd normally find in just dry sand.

Where Can You Find Quicksand?

It's all down to the local conditions. Obviously you'll need to be near water. So bogs, marshes and along river banks are good places to practice getting stuck. It can also form in standing water, provided that it's saturated with sand and then agitated. Like wise when top soil is exposed to upward flowing water. There is such a thing as dry quicksand. This uses smaller particles of sand which form a sedimentary layer over larger more granular sand. Sometime quicksand will come hand in hand with an earthquake. The vibrations and solid flow can swallow both buildings and people.

How Quicksand Works

So we know that stepping onto quicksand will lower the surface viscosity, and you'll start to sink. If you remain still, then the particles of material under foot will be come more solid, thus stopping you sinking any further. But if you decide to fight it, to wriggle and writhe around, then each movement is creating more of the liquefies material around yourself, and so you'll sink further. But, no matter what, you'll not sink further then your waist. Putting our physics hat back on, we can see that the average human density is around 1 gram per millilitre. The average density of quicksand is 2 grams per millilitre. So feel free to freak out as much as you like.

On the one hand, you disturbing the quicksand makes it more liquid. But on the other hand you have gravity which is acting against you. To that end, the trick for escaping quicksand is to move very slowly. Essentially, you're trying to float on top of it. So pulling and jerking your limbs will only make matters worse. 

How Quicksand Can Kill You

On it own, quicksand isn't killing anyone. But in conjunction with other factors then it can prove deadly. If you're upright, then you're not going to drown with mouthfuls of sand, as you can't sink any deeper than your waist. But, if for example, your in a tidal area, and the tide comes in...then it's goodnight and sleep well with the fishes. In fact, any form of rising water, whether tidal or simply heavy rain, can be a potential source of death. Then we have hypothermia which will occur rapidly if your stuck in cold wet sand. Where ever you are, when the sun goes down, then the temperature is going to drop accordingly. Then we have crush syndrome. Any extended pressure on skeletal muscle can result in circulatory problems. Just think, even rescuers need to release the pressure off a wound every 15 minutes to avoid loss of limb or life.

Moving along with our death list, we have dehydration. If you're trapped then liquid loss is gong be be a big problem. If we think back to the rule of 3's; then 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 days without liquids and 3 weeks without food. Obviously conditions might vary and might affect you overall mileage. As you get weaker, there's always the chance that wild animals might come for a feed. Hmmm...tender cheeks!

How To Escape From Quicksand

The very idea of being some animals snack should make you sit up straight and pay attention to this bit. First things first, in order to escape, you can't pull someone out of quicksand. Yes, in the movies there's always someone who comes at the last minute with a stick or a piece of vine. Normally they are without a shirt, have a six-pack and have a very strong jawline. But it's not going to help. Just moving your foot at the rate of 0.01 meters per second needs the same force as that required to lift a car. The harder you pull on that branch, then the worse it gets. You are also pulling against a vacuum. You want to very, very slowly try and extract yourself and end up lying on your back. 

If You Step Into Quicksand

Just stop! Completely freeze. And try not to panic. Depending on how far in to the area of quicksand you find yourself, you should try to lighten yourself. Gently remove any backpack or camera. Increase the surface area by laying backwards. Now gentle wiggle your feet and legs in a small circular motion, whilst at the same time gentle try and move them upwards. By doing so you'll be liquefying the sand around them. Slowly work your legs up and free. If you're lying on your back, then you won't sink, and once free you'l be able to roll away. If you're well and truly stuck, let's hope you have your phone about you. If you spot someone in the distance, shout but don't wave your arms. 

Unfortunately, at ExitTheRoom we don't have a bed of quicksand in our escape rooms. It would certainly add an entertaining factor as it would take some time to either extract yourself or a team player. In conjunction with the clock ticking down the minutes, and a group of blood-thirsty zombies pounding at the door, it would certainly up the levels of stress, as you frantically try and make your escape. 

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