What It's Like to Die from Being Sucked Into Quicksand

Ever wonder what sinking into quicksand feels like? Let's just say it's a unique sensation. There's pressure, sliminess, and a profound sensation of being stuck and gripped, especially if you try to pull away. Death by quicksand is rare and it probably doesn't happen the way you think it does. In movies and shows, someone sinking and dying in quicksand usually struggles, fights, and ultimately gets sucked under. But how often does that happen in reality? What does quicksand actually do to you? What even is quicksand?

Quicksand happens in nature - most often in river deltas - when water can't escape from the ground, causing the dirt or sand in that area to become liquefied and unable to support weight. The stuff can kill you, and it won't be a speedy, painless process. But exactly how does quicksand suck you in? Take a look at how it works in detail and learn just how it feels to be stuck in quicksand. Who knows? Maybe it will even help you escape from quicksand at some point. 

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  • You Won't See It Until It's Too Late

    You Won't See It Until It's Too Late
    Photo: Symo0 / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    One thing that makes quicksand so deceptive is the fact that it looks like a solid, but behaves like a liquid under the right circumstances. This means you probably won't see the quicksand for what it is until you actually step in it. You might notice some parts look muddy or that the ground looks shiny with a little bit of standing water. Then, when you step on it, the water and sand separate from each other, creating a kind of wet sand slurry. When this happens, the friction between sand particles becomes so low it can't support your weight like a piece of solid ground can. You could sink up to your ankles, or even up to your knees and waist. Once that happens, things are going to get a little uncomfortable, to say the least.

  • You Won't Get Sucked Under

    You Won't Get Sucked Under
    Photo: ~Prescott / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    In movies and legends, quicksand lurks along a forest path or in the jungle. A person steps on it, falls or gets sucked in, and then struggles like hell until they sink under and suffocate. That's how it works, right?

    Well, not quite. As it turns out, scientists at the University of Amsterdam have researched quicksand properties to see if people really can get dragged under, and they found out that, actually, we don't sink. We can get trapped, we can get ourselves more trapped as we struggle, and it can even lead to our death, but we are not going to get pulled under. Because quicksand behaves like water, and humans are full of air, we can float on it, at least to some extent. Unless you purposefully dunk your head in, you're not going to drown in quicksand.

  • You're Going to Get Really Stuck

    You're Going to Get Really Stuck
    Photo: timrb / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Even though quicksand can't suck you under, it can get you stuck. When you fall into quicksand, it can be pretty surprising, and your initial reaction is to pull away. But as you pull, the area around your limbs or body firms up in response, holding you tight. This happens because, as you strain, the liquefied sand has less pressure on it. The pressure of your body is the reason it liquefies, so the moment the pressure is not there, the sand starts to harden again. This is particularly bad if there's clay mixed in because it can basically act like glue.

  • Your Shoes Might Be a Big Problem

    Your Shoes Might Be a Big Problem
    Photo: urbandispute / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    If you try to simply pull yourself free from quicksand, it will just solidify around you. Your shoes can be particularly problematic, because shoes with flat, flexible soles can act as big ol' suction cups. This suction effect can make freeing yourself incredibly difficult.

    If you're able to take off your shoes and keep your weight spread out evenly, you'll have a better chance of escape. 

  • You're Going to Want to Panic

    You're Going to Want to Panic
    Photo: rs-foto / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    At this point, you've struggled, you've pulled, you've tried removing your clothes with no progress, and you're pretty securely trapped. Most likely, you've struggled enough to go in up to your knees or waist, so your lower half is likely to be pretty stuck. This can trigger a panic instinct and that's probably the worst thing that can happen. Once you're deep in quicksand, the best thing you can do is stay calm and wait for rescue. However, the human brain and body don't do well with being trapped, so you might thrash around, and thrashing can pull you deeper, until you're in up to your chest. This is the point when things can start to get deadly.

  • You'd Have to Be Superhuman to Force Yourself Free

    You'd Have to Be Superhuman to Force Yourself Free
    Photo: Gidzy / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    A University of Amsterdam study revealed how much effort it would take to pull free from quicksand, and the results were grim. To free just one foot by pulling with brute force, it would take at least enough strength to lift a medium sized car. So, unless you're a superhero or you have a lot of people helping you, you're not going to be able to just pull yourself free.