Charles Joughin Hypothermia Survival

Let me shed some light on the subject. In March of this year, I capsized my Kayak in a Northern Michigan lake. The ice from the south end of the lake had slid underneath the north end ice during overnight winds. My brother called me that morning to tell me that the ice was off of the lake. I'm going top skip the details of how we ended up out there inadvertantly, but I wanted to set the tone for the temperature of the water which was about 34 degrees.

Caught in a surprise storm front with high winds and 2'-3' waves I was underwater in a matter of two minutes. Many people die within a couple minutes of this point because the shock of the cold water may cause a person to gasp and suck in water, providing your head is submerged. Hence you drown. Many others die within the next fifteen minutes at this temerature. The causes often resulting from shock or exertion from swimming, causing rapid heat loss(as if submersion wasn't enough). If you've made it this far at this temperature, your doing something right and you've got a chance. After about 20 minutes or so, the burning goes away and the numbness and stiffness starts to set in. Of course you've lost your finger movement in about ten minutes or less. Now, nobody on this forum has brought up what this Baker fellow was wearing. I was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of Blue jeans, and just my luck, I was going commando(no briefs) that day. No one seems to know if Baker had a full stomach. Apparently his hair was not wet. That makes a huge difference. I was fighting waves that were submerging my head every eighth wave or so. I struggled for 30 minutes trying to get the nose of my yellow Kayak above water so that I could be seen. I had to get my life jacket from my bulk head and struggle for ten minutes to get the damn thing on and buckled, which is no easy task when your also trying to keep your back to the waves and your boat by your side. After being in the water for about 45 minutes, I was losing my ability to process information. That includes sight, sound, and thought.

After 50 minutes I could no longer see the rescue vehicles nor thier flashing lights on shore that had been there for over 30 minutes. The truth is, They were there all along, I just couldn't process what I was seeing. It's not like tracers at that point, it's more like lagging still frames.

I told myself that the rescuers didn't see us(yes I said us), and that they had gone, assuming that there were in fact no kayakers. Since I had drifted nearly a 1/4 mile from my brother, who had capsized ten minutes after myself, and could no longer see him, I decided that the only chance I had now was to swim the mile to shore. I chose what I thought was the closest shore, abandoned my submerged kayak, and started a very slow and sloppy swim against the waves towards the shore. I made it about 100 yards, beofre I stopped to turn around to check my progress, relative to my yellow kayak. At that point I realized that I was barely breathing. I was taking in small amounts of air, and very slowly. I wasn't exhausted, I just couldn't get my diaphram moving any faster or farther. I could hardly makes sense of what I was seeing, but I knew that I had only a few minutes until I was going to become unconcious. And that swim was a twenty minute swim in warm water going with the wind. I knew there was no chance. I had been in the water for one hour now. I was floating. I was numb with no pain. I was increasingly delerious. I couldn't see very well. I couldn't think very well. And my breathing was shutting down, which meant my core temp was low enough to effect the muscles in my torso.

This was the hard part. I wanted to keep swimming. Mostly because I had a two year old boy and a pregnant wife at home, who had no idea what was happening. But I knew that I had only a couple of minutes of conciousness left. This is when I decide to speak my peace with God, and ask that my wife and children not be put through such a disaster. After that I conceeded. There was no way in the world anyone was going to get to me in the next couple of minutes. I just sat there afloat. Everything went silent, even the crashing waves. I could only see what was in my mind. I figured my brother must be dead by now since he is forty pounds lighter than I. Even though he was in the water ten minutes less.

When in self preservation mode, it's not that you don't care about others, you simply can't concern yourself with it.

After a couple of minutes I heard the sweet sound of a Mercury outboard motor. Suddenly I could focus a little, though I could'nt see the boat. I could again hear the crashing waves and wind. I was even able to throw both arms in the air and take in enough breath to let out a low and short yell. My brother, who says he was above himself looking down, heard the scream, and couldn't even turn his head to look. He was absolutely amazed that I was still alive, and proud of me, even though he thought that my scream was my goodbye. Twenty seconds later, I managed another yell. This is where my brother kind of snapped out of his "dying" and realized that something else may be happening. He then heard the outboard motor and raaised one arm. The rescuers spotted him and proceeded to him. I still could not see them until they were trying to get him into the boat. (This has nothing to do with hypothermia, but I must tell you this because my brother has earned it. When the rescuers approached him he muttered that they should get me first since I was in the water longer, and pointed in my direction. That's a brother for you.) I remember thinking that they were taking too long and that I wasn't going to make it. That's when I reached deep and started swimming towards the rescue boat. They spotted my kayak and then me. I was rescued after being in the water for an hour and six minutes.

Our core temperatures were around 85 degrees. We had equalized because he was wearing more clothing and had less time in the water, while I was 40 lbs heavier.

I gained minutes from putting my vest on when I did and keeping my neck from being constantly submerged. I gained minutes from having a full stomach which held heat in my stomach longer. However, I lost minutes from exerting myself excessively by trying to make my kayak noticeable, by trying to board my kayak several times, by swimming for shore, and by getting dunked every minute or so. Yet I made it over an hour in 34 degree water. I suspect that if I had a dry head, more layers of clothing, my vest on when I went in, a full stomach, kept my arms to my side, remained still in calm water, and some shear will power, that I could have survived longer than two hours and maybe as much as three.

Bakers circumstances may have allowed him to survive for nearly or more than three hours. Especially if his clothing was layered and fit tight around his ankles, waist, wrists, and neck. That coupled with determination. Heck, the fit of his life vest could have preserved heat.

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I should also add that condidtioning is an unmentioned factor. As children, my brother and I were always the first kids in the water in the spring and the last ones out in the fall. We were also known to stay submerged in 65-70 degree water for several hours. Yes we were shivering when we got out, but many years of just that may have conditioned us to last longer in cold temperatures. I SCUBA dive with some guys in the winter here in freezing water and they all wear drysuits. I am the only one who wears a 7mm wetsuit. That is conditioning. Five years ago I snorkeled in trunks in Lake Superior for nearly forty minutes in May. That water was in the forties.

I believe that conditioning is something that Baker may have under his belt. There are a lot of variables. But the bottom line is that I firmly believe, given my experience, that we are all a little different in our tolerances.

I know a guy who forgets everything after the sixth beer, and another who remembers everything past 20.

Regardless of how long Baker was in that water, he was lucky that he didn't die when he first went in, and it's remakable that he lasted over 30 minutes.
Charles Joughin Is My Grandmothers Uncle.
And The Way The Story Has Been Told In Our Family Is As Soon As Charles Heard About The Sinking Of The Ship, He Grabbed A Bottle Of Vodka (Or Some Other Strong Alcohol) And Started Drinking Excessively. Then He Got All The Chairs He Could Find And Chucked Them Overboard For People In The Water.
And Apparently, He Was The Last Person Actually On The Ship. He Just Stepped Off As The Boat Hit The Water. I Do Believe The Thing About Him Not Getting His Hair Wet Is The Truth, As My Grandmother Was There To Hear His Heroic Story,
Now I'm really confused. Thomas, you said that average survival time in 28 F water is about 1 hr 20 mins, but all the sea rescue/hypothermia sites I've looked at say it's max. 45 mins for 35 F or less, loss of consciousness within about 15 mins. I assume you know what you're talking about given your profession (though realise that you might not see this as you don't seem to have been on here for a while), but that really confused me.
Can anyone shed some light on this? The figures I have for survival make even an hour, which some people have argued for, unconvincing for me. I can only assume, as people have said, that he just wasn't in the water for nearly as long as he said and that his perception was skewed by either the alcohol or the cold.
I think you'll find that the survival times in all the official pulications and the like are averages, not iron clad absolutes. There are a lot of differing factors at work which determine how long a given person could survive. In the instance of the people on the Titanic who were in contact with the water, survival tended to depend on how quickly they got out of it because they would lose body heat a lot faster in the water then they would in the air.

As to the article from Readers Digest cited above, I regard that story with a massive amount of skepticism. I wouldn't go so far as to call it impossible...exceptional cases exist...but Readers Digest has a habit of publishing material as fact without always checking to see if it is. An example would be the condensed version of Colin Simpson's book on the Lusitania which is notorious among Lusitania researchers for it's errors in fact.

Just a little something to for everybody to think about there.
I know the times are averages, but the average one Thomas gave was higher than all the others I've seen. I can believe that there might just be one or two exceptional cases where someone does survive 1h 20 mins or more, but as an average it just seemed too long. Joughin's time, especially with adjustments as suggested in this thread, would be more believable with that average, but much less so if you took the 45 minute figure, which in the tables I've seen is supposed in any case to be calculated for water 35 F - this was about 7 degrees colder!
I'm not an expert on this by any means, but my information is based on air/sea rescue websites on hypothermia which I'm assuming are reliable.

Interesting article I was directed to here:

Do gravity holes harbour planetary assassins? .200-superhuman-the-secrets-of-the-ice-man.html

This guy has really pushed the envelope, but he trains, especially before he goes in.
Joughin's time would be more believable if the water was warmer and the time scale itself wasn't completely jacked. If he had been pulled out of the water after three hours, daylight would have long broken and the Carpathia was already on the scene. Anyone who came out of the water alive and stayed alive did so long before the sun came up.

That article is interesting but it may not be all that useful in this context. Lewis Gordon Pugh...the subject of that thoroughly trained and conditioned for that sort of thing and there's evidence that he has some voluntary control over his matabolism which is a lot more then may be said for anybody on the Titanic.

It shows there are exceptions but not necesserily that anybody on Titanic was one of them.
Much of Joughin's time 'in the water' was actually spent with his upper body out of the water on the upturned collapsible. That makes a big difference.
Hello to all and especially Eloise,

I’m delighted to find this thread about Charles Joughin continuing. Yes — as pointed out, I haven’t logged in since 2006 — but recently stumbled across this discussion once again.

I’d like to try to address Eloise's thoughtful comments and questions about survival predictions and tables.

For the prediction of approximately 1 hr and 20 min average survival, I used the classic work by the Canadian investigator, John Hayward, which was used for years by the US Coast Guard and is still used by many hypothermia investigators today (Hayward JS: The physiology of immersion hypothermia. In Pozos RS, Wittners LE eds: The nature and treatment of hypothermia, Minneapolis, 1983, Univ Minnesota Press.). More recent prediction models, I think would also give a similar estimate (see for example Tikuisis P: Aviat Space Environ Med 1997; 68:441).

So why the discrepancy compared to the figures Eloise cited? To be honest, I’m not sure and I’d welcome the specific references if available. But I don’t doubt that differences are possible.

My use of the sources above for the estimate of 1 hr and 20 min. was based on many factors.

First and perhaps foremost, the sources I quote above all assume that the victim is wearing a personal flotation device (life jacket). Without flotation, survival is GREATLY decreased. Because life vests were available on Titanic, I think it is reasonable to assume that the majority of victims had them. In water 28 F, with flotation, survival for an average individual would be (using the sources above) approximately 1 hr and 20 min. Likely the victim would be unconscious much sooner — perhaps 45 minutes (or sooner). But WITHOUT FLOTATION, survival time would be dramatically less — perhaps 10 minutes or less depending on swimming ability, strength and other variables.

Secondly, the sea state was minimal the night Titanic sank. Thus, the conditions, in my opinion, matched fairly well with experimental conditions, especially those in Hayward’s studies. With rougher seas, survival time would have been less.

Lastly, some might argue that the prediction models I used are a bit optimistic — used by search and rescue personnel to give victims the benefit of the doubt and continue searches until no reasonable hope of survival remains. But given the mild sea state, and the use of flotation, I still think 1 hr and 20 min is a fair estimate.

My hunch is that Eloise's sources were perhaps more general and less specific than the ones I used - perhaps included a variety of sea states (not just calm), perhaps applicable to both victims with and victims without flotation, and perhaps just more conservative overall. Again, I’d welcome the references — obsessing over the differences in studies, after all, is what many would say we investigators do best…..

But now back to Mr. Charles Joughin. Do I still think the same as I did back in 2001? Well….yes…but maybe with a little less certainty. I still think it unlikely that he spent three hours in the water. The sunrise data seem to suggest that he didn’t. And I think most survival data also make it unlikely.

But after several more years of research, I’m a just a bit less sure. Over the years, I’ve reviewed some absolutely remarkable survival accounts, and there is considerable variability in individual responses to cold. Despite my doubts, maybe, just maybe, Charles Joughin, did last that long in extremely cold water. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say he beat the odds.

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>>Wasn't Charles John Joughin wearing raccoon fur coat also?<<

Not that I'm aware of. The trouble here is that we're trying to explain something without having any seriously credible evidence that there is anything here to explain.
Hello all

Should it be noted that Joughin was not the only survivor who claimed he was in the water for several hours? Frank Prentice (one of the survivors rescued by Lifeboat No. 4) says in this 1966 BBC interview that he was in the water for 4 hours before a lifeboat picked him up. However this cannot be possible because No.4's search for survivors occured within roughly the first half an hour of the Titanic sinking, as No.4 later joined a flotilla of boats who took on No.14's passengers to enable Lowe to look for more survivors, and Lowe's rescue attempt occured 1 hour after the sinking. If 30 minutes (at the very most) seemed like 4 hours to Prentice, is it possible that Joughin made the same miscalculation?


BBC - Archive - Survivors of the Titanic - Today from the South & West | Sinking of RMS Titanic
Human beings do not have a good sense of time. Sure, we all know "about" how long an hour lasts -- but not directly. What we know is how much can be done during that period of time. If humans were good at measuring time in their own heads there would have been much less need for clocks, pocket watches, etc. During a lifetime in broadcasting I've run into few announcers who can self-measure more than 60 seconds. Then, when you add to this the effect of hypothermia on the sensation of time, things get dicey for eyewitness accounts. Research has shown that when people are really cold their sense of passing time slows down. The old phrase, "minutes seemed like hours" seems to apply. Bottom line -- survivors in the water undoubtedly did not lie about how long they perceived they were in the water. But, someone standing nearby would have measured a much shorter period of time.

-- David G. Brown