When the Titanic sank, what was the exact cause of death of the people who died in the water?

Sep 2013
907
Chattanooga, TN
I suppose that a lower percentage of people in 1912 knew how to swim than the percentage of people who know how to swim today. I'm sure that if the Titanic sank in the summertime, and if the water was warm enough to not get hypoethermia, some of the people in the water would die due to drowning just because they did not know how to swim. But I'm sure that some of the people on the Titanic knew how to swim. How did the Titanic passengers who died in the water and knew how to swim die? Did these Titanic passengers in the water who knew how to swim become unable to swim due to hypothermia and die of drowning? Or did these Titanic passengers in the water who knew how to swim die of hypothermia without drowning?
 
Jun 2017
2,974
Connecticut
I suppose that a lower percentage of people in 1912 knew how to swim than the percentage of people who know how to swim today. I'm sure that if the Titanic sank in the summertime, and if the water was warm enough to not get hypoethermia, some of the people in the water would die due to drowning just because they did not know how to swim. But I'm sure that some of the people on the Titanic knew how to swim. How did the Titanic passengers who died in the water and knew how to swim die? Did these Titanic passengers in the water who knew how to swim become unable to swim due to hypothermia and die of drowning? Or did these Titanic passengers in the water who knew how to swim die of hypothermia without drowning?
I think this is a very grey area. The cold would not be something the people who could swin would be used to. It is worth noting the proportion of victims whose bodies were found but a lot of those floating bodies could be attributed to the lifebelts more than the ability to swim.

The chef knew how to swim(cause he was able to paddle to a lifeboat when they discovered him) but think keeping calm and not moving erraticly would be more important. Knowing how to swim doesn't mean exposure to that sort of situation wouldn't freak you out.

Another thing I was thinking about is if perhaps some of the Scandanavians would have been more resiliant to the cold due to where they grew up but I sadly assume most of the Scandanavian third class victims died in Titanic and weren't among those in the water after the sinking.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,580
Dispargum
Every documentary I've seen about the Titanic talks about hypothermia, not drowning. Most people had life belts and would not need to swim to survive. The problem was the cold water which in most cases would kill in less than half an hour whether the person could swim or not. Hypothermia killed, then anybody that was not strapped into a life vest would sink. Drowning was a faster death, for instance if one was pulled down by the suction of the sinking ship, but most people not in a life vest could probably tread water until succumbing to hypothermia.
 
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Dec 2010
272
Southwest U.S.
John Jacob Astor's body was supposedly covered with soot and was significantly mangled. The theory was that one of the ship's funnels fell on him while he was in the water. However, others who claim to have seen his body have said that it was not covered in soot or mangled. Regardless, some people probably did die from mishaps either during the evacuation or perhaps while in the water.
 

Theodoric

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,952
Yötebory Sveriya
Unfortunately, resilient or not, people die when out in cold water for more than 30-60 minutes. I guess that it could be a shock to the system, deadly cold, or drowning. I lost a friend to such a tragedy. While I never had the heart to find out all of the details... I don't know if he drowned or died of the chill of the water, he was wearing a life jacket, his boat had capsized one morning on a river, and he swam away from it not far before he stopped moving. He died shortly after being rescued. This is not the only time I have heard of boating accidents in the springtime where people have been killed in the cold of the water.
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,748
Australia
The water temperature was around -2 C, so death from hypothermia would occur within 30 minutes for most people. However there is also the shock to the system of sudden immersion that can cause cardiac arrest, and also the incapacitation effect of the cold that can cause loss of control of extremities, making it hard to swim and leading to drowning. A combination of all these factors would be responsible for the in water fatalities. A trap for the inexperienced is also not holding the front of your life jacket firmly to your chest as you jump into the water. If you don't then there is an excellent chance of the water forcing the jacket up under your chin and snapping your neck.
 
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Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,748
Australia
Unfortunately, resilient or not, people die when out in cold water for more than 30-60 minutes. I guess that it could be a shock to the system, deadly cold, or drowning. I lost a friend to such a tragedy. While I never had the heart to find out all of the details... I don't know if he drowned or died of the chill of the water, he was wearing a life jacket, his boat had capsized one morning on a river, and he swam away from it not far before he stopped moving. He died shortly after being rescued. This is not the only time I have heard of boating accidents in the springtime where people have been killed in the cold of the water.

That is very sad Theodoric. Unfortunately the water does not need to be very cold for hypothermia to sneak up on someone immersed for a while.
 
Dec 2013
297
Arkansas
The water would not have to be that cold to die from hypothermia. This is a major misconception. I've heard of people dying of hypothermia even if the external temperatures are in the 40s or even 50s because hypothermia is actually the loss of core body temperature. This is why you hear things like people dying from hypothermia if they are deer hunting in October and fall into or wade through a creek or other small body of water.
 
Aug 2011
179
The Castle Anthrax
The water temperature was around -2 C, so death from hypothermia would occur within 30 minutes for most people. However there is also the shock to the system of sudden immersion that can cause cardiac arrest, and also the incapacitation effect of the cold that can cause loss of control of extremities, making it hard to swim and leading to drowning. A combination of all these factors would be responsible for the in water fatalities. A trap for the inexperienced is also not holding the front of your life jacket firmly to your chest as you jump into the water. If you don't then there is an excellent chance of the water forcing the jacket up under your chin and snapping your neck.
As an open water swimmer in northern Latitudes where there are many polar bear clubs active in the middle of winter, I have never heard of cardiac arrest due solely to immersion in cold water. People do throw arrhythmias at events like marathons and triathlons, but these are people who already have preexisting conditions. I have heard of people complaining of their muscles "locking up" while swimming in cold water, but I am skeptical that it is a psychological rather than a physiological problem.
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The water would not have to be that cold to die from hypothermia. This is a major misconception. I've heard of people dying of hypothermia even if the external temperatures are in the 40s or even 50s because hypothermia is actually the loss of core body temperature. This is why you hear things like people dying from hypothermia if they are deer hunting in October and fall into or wade through a creek or other small body of water.
Very true. When the USS Indianapolis went down in July of 1945 the air temperature had been nearly 110/43 F/C and the water was likely in the mid to upper 80/30 F/C. Those rescued described suffering from severe chills at night and having to huddle together to stay warm. It's a severe demand placed on the body to maintain the requisite core temperature. One has to keep moving so that their muscles can generate heat, but after a while the energy demands exceed stored reserves. Survivors report having to fight the constant urge to give up. As to exactly how those died in the water...? Assuming that they were otherwise healthy when they entered the water, they would have died of cardiac arrest. Their breathing would have slowed, heart rate would have slowed until they experienced arrhythmias and then full arrest.