That Sinking Feeling

(16 February 2001, Florida) Karla, 32, drowned when she fell asleep at the wheel and drove her car into a 30-foot-deep canal. Alarmed by her predicament, she dialed 911 from her cell phone. The operator urged her to roll down her windows or open the door, but she refused. "If I do, all the water is going to come in!"

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself trapped in a sinking car, it is essential to roll the windows down immediately so that you can escape from the vehicle. Once the bottom of your door is even slightly submerged, the water pressure makes it almost impossible to open the door until the car is nearly full, which equalizes the pressure.

It takes a car up to 10 minutes to sink, depending on how well sealed the vehicle is, but the electrical system fails much sooner as the water penetrates the body and short-circuits the wires. In most cars with automatic windows, the motor that powers the window is located halfway up the car door, so you must act fast if you plan to survive.

Karla was a strong swimmer and could have paddled to safety, if only she had managed to escape from her vehicle. When Karla and her 1998 BMW 328 were pulled from the canal, they found the keys to the ignition in her purse, and the left rear window entirely open.

Alan Petrillo says, "The idea that the electrical system fails in water is a commonly held but incorrect assumption. Actually the basic parts of the car's electrical system work just fine when wet. Most of them use watertight connections, and the components themselves will work until they corrode to the point that they won't make contact. However the more sensitive parts of the electrical system, such as computers, won't survive once water leaks into their cases."

Ben Taylor says, "If the facts are as reported, then this was not an accident, but rather murder or suicide. Keys in the victims purse? A rear window open to let the water in? The call was either faked or a suicide's cover-up."