Digging, Struggling, Sinking (Relax & Float)

In 1997, Everette Hodgins, 14, and his friend Justice Carr, 15, were walking to a fishing pond in Braidwood, Illinois, when they encountered something they’d only seen in movies – quicksand.

Traditional quicksand is created when water seeps up from an underground source and saturates an area of sand, silt, clay, or any other grainy soil. Normal sand can support extreme amounts of weight because friction between the grains of sand creates a force chain, distributing the load across a large area. But once there is sufficient moisture, the sand and water becomes a suspension where the sand particles are floating within the water. This significantly reduces the friction between the grains of sand, compromising its ability to support weight. Because the water seeps in from the bottom, the top layer of sand is often dry, causing it to appear to be normal sand.

The boys began to sink, and struggling just caused them to dig deeper.

Once quicksand is disturbed by movement on the surface, it liquefies, causing anything on top to sink into it very easily. The sand and clay then fall to the bottom of the mixture, creating a thick sediment that ultimately prevents further sinking, but makes it very difficult to escape.  To move within quicksand, a person or object must apply sufficient pressure on the compacted sand to re-introduce enough water to liquefy it. The forces required to do this are quite large: to remove a foot from quicksand at a speed of .01 m/s would require the same amount of force as “that needed to lift a medium-sized car.”

When Everette didn’t come home that Wednesday night, his mother called the police.  She told them she knew something was tragically wrong.  Officers believed that the boys ran away, so Everette’s parents began their own search.

The bodies of Everette and Justice were not found until Saturday morning.

When authorities first came to retrieve the boys’ bodies, the officers sank in the sand and had to be pulled out.

They then used pumps to drain “a large amount of water” from the pool, and finally employed a backhoe to recover the bodies.

The boys were never completely submerged.  According to a 2005 study, it is impossible for quicksand to completely engulf a human being.

Study led by Daniel Bonn, University of Amsterdam

The researchers simulated a quicksand pit in the lab and placed an aluminum ball of greater density than the quicksand on top of the pit. The ball didn’t sink until the researchers began to shake the pit, simulating movement and turning the mixture of sand and water more liquid. When they did this, the ball sank right to the bottom.

But when they used an aluminum ball with a density equal to the human body, which is less than the density of quicksand, they found it impossible to sink the ball, no matter how hard they shook the pit.

Incidents of sinking and disappearing into quicksand are exceedingly rare and tend to involve additional weight, such as heavy metal-frame backpacks.

Eventually the boys stopped struggling from exhaustion and began to float, but at this point they had already sunk too deep.

They died of drowning and possibly exposure.

The vast majority of deaths involving quicksand occur as a result of exposure: a person becomes trapped and unable to escape and then dies from starvation, cold, or rising tides.

The police said there were claw and scratch marks in the sand.

I can’t think straight.

I know what’s distracting me.

As usual, I’m digging myself deeper.  I thought I’d lost the ability.

Any attempt to pull me out will only tear me apart.

I need to stop struggling.

I need to just relax, and float.

One Response to “Digging, Struggling, Sinking (Relax & Float)”

  1. Justin Tiemeyer Says:

    David Bowie has a really sweet song called “Quicksand.”

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