Experts: 'If hypothermic, don't panic'

PASADENA /*US Airways*/ flight 1549 was submerged in near freezing water Thursday afternoon, after the jetliner collided with birds knocking out both engines. Huntington Memorial ER physician, Dr. Stanley Kalter says the last thing you want to do is end up in the water.

"Water has 32 times the heat capacity of air, which means it will take the heat out of your body 32 times faster than the air will," said Dr. Kalter.

Hypothermia occurs the moment your body starts losing heat faster than it can produce it.

The first sign is you will be moving around trying to stay warm. Secondly, experts say your body will make involuntary adjustments in order to preserve the temperature of your vital organs.

"Your body reacts to it by shivering and keeping the body temperature up," said Dr. Kalter.

Eyewitnesses say that rescue boats reached the plane within five minutes. But with continued exposure a person could lose the ability to think clearly, and loss of motor skills and lethargy would soon set in.

"Eventually you lose consciousness, and when your cold enough your heart will stop," said Dr. Kalter.

In 32 to 35 degree waters a person could only survive 15 minutes. Reports say the river's temperature was only slightly warmer than this.

"Wet clothing needs to be removed as soon as it can. The body needs to be dried off," said Dr. Kalter.

Hypothermia victims are treated with warming blankets. In extreme cases doctors might use a heated IV, or equipment to warm the blood.

"It is important that you do not panic. If you do not panic then you can at least think about what you are going to do, and do things reasonably," said Dr. Kalter.


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