Regarding the tragic death by drowning of young Rayan Issa while on a school outing at Range Pond State Park:

News reports said that chaperones and the lifeguard on duty failed to see any signs of a child in distress or struggling. We should all be aware that drowning can, in fact, be a deceptively quiet struggle. Drowning people cannot flail, splash or call for help.

Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., in the U.S. Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine, described the “instinctive drowning response”:

Unable to call for help.

 Mouth alternately sinks below and reappears above the surface with no time to call out.

 Cannot wave for help. Instinctively extends arms laterally and presses down on the water’s surface to lift mouth out of the water.

 Cannot perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer or reaching for rescue equipment.

Remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. They can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

“This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress,” said Mario Vittone, retired Coast Guard helicopter rescuer swimmer. “Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long – but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.

“Look for these other signs of drowning:

 Head low in the water, mouth at water level.

 Head tilted back with mouth open.

Eyes glassy, unable to focus.

 Eyes closed.

 Hair over forehead or eyes.

 Not using legs – vertical.

Hyperventilating or gasping.

 Trying to swim but not making headway.

 Trying to roll over on the back.

 Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.”

Susan R. Roscoe

Portland