Woman falls overboard, survives 38 hours without lifejacket in South China Sea

Woman falls overboard survives 38 hours without lifejacket in South China Sea, before rescue Source: AAP

Just keep swimming...

A woman has survived 38 hours treading water in the South China Sea. The Chinese tourist fell overboard from a cruise ship, a day and a half prior to her rescue.  The woman’s survival has been celebrated as an 'Olympian' feat.

Reports revealed the woman continued treading water even while asleep.

The woman, who has only been identified by her surname Fan, has admitted to being a strong swimmer having attended a sports university.

After falling overboard from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship late on Wednesday night, Fan tried calling out for help. However no one could hear her.  

Fan also told police afterwards she swam away from larger ships that passed by, so as not to be swept under by them. But when she came across a small fishing vessel, she swam towards it.

Apart from a few jellyfish stings, Fan appeared to be unscathed by the incident.

However, Dr Ameer Ibrahim from the Sydney Sports Medicine Centre in Homebush Olympic Park told SBS prolonged exercise in water and without fuel would have wreaked havoc on a host of internal bodily functions.

“Hypothermia, even when submerged in lukewarm water can cause issues with the heart and blood flow,” he said. “Cold water constricts blood vessels. And that affects active muscles. Pretty much you can’t get blood to your muscles which makes it hard to keep using them.”

Dr Ibhrahim is also sceptical Fan would have been treading water while asleep. He said it’s more likely she grew tired, dozed off, began to sink, and once the water hit her nose or mouth she’d awake and resume swimming.

He also mentioned how the kidneys would typically shut down after prolonged exertion. 

Then how was it Fan managed to survive while for nearly two days?

“It’s hard to know. But certainly not wanting to die is a good motivation for survival! The temperature of the water during this season is a bit warmer which could have helped,” said Dr Ibrahim. “Adrenaline would have contributed in first few hours, but after that would have tailed off.”

Through immense training, long distance swimmers develop the mechanism to use up fat stores and not glucose energy stores when exercising. However, for non-professional athletes like Fan, glucose energy stores would have depleted within the first few hours and the body would have chipped into muscle and fat for fuel.

“The fitter you are the quicker you start using your fat since it’s more efficient. But with endurance swimming it takes years to train for events and to get to that stage. It’s a slow process,” he said.

He also said women tend to be better at long distance swimming, due to their body structure.

“Women hold all the records in endurance swimming. And it’s because they have better fat stores than men.”

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