External Examination of a Submerged Body

Froth ("meringue-like") is expressed around the mouth and nostrils in a typical "wet" drowning (see Headings 10. and 12. Fig. 3; and refs. 6 and 16). Froth can be washed away by the action of water before body retrieval, disappear after the body has been in the open, or removed before transfer of the body for autopsy (3). Froth may be not seen by investigators at the scene (3). In one study, external foam was observed in only 19% of cases (3).

Drowning Froth
Fig. 3. "Wet" drowning. Froth from nose and mouth.

Unzippered pants of an inebriated male who slipped into the water is seen uncommonly (1,9). Finding of material (e.g., weeds, sand) clutched in a victim's hands suggests struggling (6). Dirt under the fingernails could indicate the flailing of hands along a muddy bottom (Fig. 4). Wrist scars or recent self-inflicted sharp force injuries on a drowning victim point toward suicide (see Heading 3. and refs. 9 and 137). Facial or scalp blunt trauma means ruling out underlying cranial and cervical spine trauma; however, cutaneous injuries are possible when the victim assumes a head-down position and scrapes the bottom (see Chapter 2, Subheading 3.3.; Fig. 5; and refs. 11 and 29). The absence of external trauma in an unwitnessed submersion does not mean that drowning is the cause of death (13).

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