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10 Drownings That Did Not Involve Water

by Cassie Leigh
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death.[1] Typically, water comes to mind—young children unsupervised in a pool or an overconfident swimmer getting pulled under by a strong current. Water might be the most common substance that people drown in, but it certainly isn’t the only one. A person can drown in any liquid.

Below are ten unusual drowning cases that were not caused by water. Some of these substances must have made a horrible way to die that much worse. But others just might have made the end a little sweeter for the victims.

10 Plunged Into Paint

30-year-old Christopher Shute worked at a Ford transit van plant located in Southampton, England. The factory contained a massive tank that collected and recycled paint from the factory’s paint shop. Within the first year of operating, the paint tank began malfunctioning on a regular basis, which resulted in paint overflowing the tank.

In August 2000, the paint tank began overflowing while Shute was working. Shute climbed on top of the tank to try to stop the spill.[2] While he was up there, he fell through an opening in the tank where a lid had been removed. The overflowing paint would have made it impossible for Shute to see that the lid was missing.

Shute tried to pull himself out, and a colleague tried to reach him, but the paint made everything too slippery. Shute drowned.

Not long before Shute’s death, another worker had fallen into the tank while it was being cleaned. Had proper safety rails and procedures been implemented at that time, Shute’s accident would likely not have happened.

Ford and two acting managers were held liable for Shute’s death. The popular car manufacturer and the two managers in charge of Shute all admitted to the charges of failing to ensure the safety of their workers. This resulted in a £300,000 fine for Ford, and the managers were each fined £5,000.

9 Trapped In A Grease Pit

Photo credit: WRBL

In October 2017, Sadie Grace Andrews, three years old, visited an ice cream shop in Auburn, Alabama, with her family. She and two of her siblings were playing behind the store when Sadie stepped on the lid of a grease trap, causing the lid to flip open. Sadie tumbled into the 1.8-meter-deep (6 ft) pit, and the lid fell closed behind her.

Security cameras showed that her father had turned his head for only a moment. When her family realized Sadie was missing, they alerted authorities and began searching right away. It took less than ten minutes for Sadie’s father to locate the young girl in the grease trap. She was unresponsive. Family members and employees of the ice cream shop performed CPR until paramedics arrived at the scene. Sadie was rushed to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Her death was ruled an accidental drowning.[3]

8 Immersed In Molasses

In the summer of 2016, Robert Herweyer was newly married and expecting his first child. Herweyer worked for Agri-Technology in Saugatuck, Michigan, a small company that supplies farms with agricultural products. On July 26, 2016, Herweyer was cleaning a 3.7-meter (12 ft) molasses tank. When the level of molasses became too low to pump out, Herweyer entered the tank in order to adjust the valve. He used safety equipment, lowering himself into the contraption with straps and a forklift while another worker assisted. Herweyer appeared to be fine while working in the tank, but when he began to climb out, he suddenly stopped moving.[4]

His coworker called to him, but Herweyer failed to respond. Herweyer fell down and slipped under the molasses. His coworker tried and failed to lift him from the tank before running to get help. The plant owner used an electric saw to cut the tank open and free Herweyer. Witnesses estimate that he was submerged in the molasses for four to five minutes before they were able to free him. He did not respond to CPR efforts. The emergency room doctor who treated him found molasses in his lungs and determined that Herweyer died from drowning.

7 Plummeting Into Manure Ponds

A drive through the countryside can often include the unpleasant scent of manure. If you thought the smell was bad, imagine what it would be like to drown in it.

In February 2016, Ruperto Vazquez-Carrera showed up for his shift at Sunrise Organic Dairy in Idaho. He was driving a feed truck across the farm when he crashed it into a manure pond. He managed to escape from the truck but became disoriented while swimming in the muck consisting of animal feces and urine. His body was located 64 meters (210 ft) from the truck, pointed away from the direction that would have quickly led him to land.

Drowning in manure happens more often than you might think. Just seven months after Vazquez-Carrera’s death, a dairy worker at a different Idaho farm met the same fate after driving a tractor into a manure pond.

The feces-filled ponds are common on dairy farms. They store animal waste and prevent it from polluting waterways. The contents of the ponds are later used as fertilizer. On both Idaho farms where employees drowned in manure, there were no barricades, floodlights, or even signs to warn the drivers away from crashing into the pond on a dark morning.[5]

6 Engulfed In Liquefied Vegetables

In July 2010, tragedy struck a ketchup factory in Lucknow, India. The factory contained a 6-meter-deep (20 ft) tank that was used to ferment vegetables. A worker was scooping fermented liquids from the tank when her ladder slipped, and she fell in. Her fellow employees saw the accident and rushed to help her. In a lethal parade, seven more people fell into the tank.

Authorities arrived and extracted the workers from the vat. They were all rushed to a local trauma center, where six were declared dead.

Police believed that once inside the tank, the toxic gasses produced during the fermentation process caused the workers to fall unconscious. Once the workers lost consciousness, they drowned in the liquefied vegetables.[6]

5 Death By Chocolate

In 2002, Yoni Cordon was working at Kargher Corporation, a candy factory located in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. His body was discovered submerged in a 4,500-liter (1,200 gal) vat of melted chocolate.

A platform near the vat was used for mixing ingredients, and it is believed the 19-year-old was working on the platform when he slipped and fell into the tank. No one saw Cordon fall in, so it was unknown how long he was in the tank before coworkers discovered his body. Foul play was not suspected, and Cordon’s death was ruled an accident.[7]

Cordon is not the only case of chocolate drowning. In 2009, Vincent Smith II also fell into a vat of melted chocolate. The 29-year-old had held a temporary position at Cocoa Services Inc. in New Jersey. Smith was standing on a 2.7-meter-high (9 ft) platform while he added chocolate to the vat. A blade used to mix the chocolate hit him, knocking him into the tank. Coworkers attempted to help him, but Smith was dead by the time he was pulled from the molten chocolate.

4 Caught In Cooking Oil

Donald Boone worked at a Frito-Lay factory in Lubbock, Texas, for more than six years. On February 9, 2001, Boone and another employee were making repairs on the roof of a 4.5-meter-tall (15 ft) tank that contained cooking oil. Boone’s coworker bent down to retrieve a tool. When he looked up, he saw Boone’s legs disappearing through a 0.6-meter (2 ft) opening in the tank.

Boone’s coworker called for help. A valve to release the oil in the vat was opened, and another worker tried looking for Boone through the tank’s roof opening, but all he could see were his shoes.

Paramedics arrived quickly, only five minutes after Boone had fallen into the tank. Boone was pulled from the oil and rushed to the emergency room, but he did not respond to resuscitation efforts. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.[8]

It was later discovered that Boone hit his head when he fell into the tank, which rendered him unconscious and caused him to drown in the cooking oil.

Frito-Lay Inc. agreed to pay $57,000 in fines for safety violations that were discovered during the investigation after Boone’s death.

3 Falling Into A Pit Toilet

In 2014, Michael Komape was five years old and attending his first year of primary school in a South African village on the outskirts of Polokwane. On January 20, Michael’s mom, Rosina, received a call from the primary school principal. The principal informed her that Michael had been missing for approximately two hours.

When Rosina arrived at the school, teachers told her they had searched everywhere, including the student toilets. They also asked Rosina to stay away from the toilets. Rosina then spotted Michael’s best friend, who told her he had seen Michael fall into one of the toilets. Rosina looked into the pit toilet that Michael’s friend pointed out, and saw her son’s arm rising above the pool of feces. He had drowned in human waste.[9]

The fire department pulled Michael’s body from the pit, and the school immediately shut down the student toilets. Faced with the liability of the dilapidated pit toilets that caused Michael’s death, the government installed brand-new lavatories at the primary school, as well as other schools in the area, within weeks.

Michael’s parents and siblings are suing the state for his death. The trial was postponed until November 2017 because of various technical delays. The Komape family is seeking monetary damages for shock and trauma as well as an amount for constitutional damages. They are also requesting a change in the safety and hygiene requirements of schools as well as an apology from the state for their role in the neglect that led to Michael’s death.

2 Submerged In Sulfuric Acid

Fernando Gonzalez worked for Coastal Circuits Factory in Redwood City, California. The 18-year-old was expected home early on the morning of September 23, 2007, after working a late-night shift. When he failed to show up, his father, who was also a Coastal Circuits employee, went to the factory to look for him. Shortly before 2:00 AM, Gonzalez’s father found his body in a vat of sulfuric acid.

Initial reports stated that Gonzalez was one of two Coastal Circuits employees working at the time. He had been submerging circuit boards in the sulfuric acid. Authorities believed toxic fumes from the chemicals caused Gonzalez to lose consciousness before falling forward into the vat and drowning.

There were many questions left unanswered in the immediate aftermath of Gonzalez’s death. A Coastal Circuits spokesperson declined to explain why Gonzalez had been working such a late shift with only one other employee or why he hadn’t been wearing any facial protection while working with chemicals. There was no explanation for why the other employee had not called for help after Gonzalez’s accident.

Later reports revealed more questions than answers. Gonzalez was referred to as working alone when the accident occurred, and no mention was made of another employee. In addition, toxicology reports showed that Gonzalez did not succumb to any chemicals before falling face-first into the vat of sulfuric acid.[10]

Despite the mystery surrounding the incident, officials did not investigate Gonzalez’s drowning as suspicious, and his death was ruled an accident.

1 Tsunami Of Beer

The Horse Shoe Brewery was located in St. Giles in London. In 1810, the brewery installed a 6.7-meter-high (22 ft) wooden fermentation tank. The massive structure was held together by giant iron rings that surrounded the tank. Four years later, on October 17, 1814, one of those iron rings snapped. The tank exploded, releasing a tsunami of beer. The force behind the tidal wave of ale was so great that the back wall of the brewery collapsed. The pressure also broke open several other containers of liquid, and their contents added to the 4.5-meter (15 ft) tidal wave that flooded the streets. In total, more than 1.2 million liters (320,000 gal) of beer burst from the brewery.

The area surrounding the brewery was densely populated by slums, and it didn’t take long for the flood of beer to claim lives. Eight people drowned, including four mourners participating in a wake for a toddler who had died the day before.

Those left standing were quick to profit from the catastrophe. Hundreds of people grabbed every container they could find and scooped up the free beer. Overindulgence resulted in alcohol poisoning, which claimed another life days later. Relatives of the beer flood victims charged people money to view the corpses of their lost loved ones. One of these morbid exhibitions caused so many people to gather in one house that the floor collapsed, dropping everyone into a cellar still flooded waist-high with beer.

The incident caused breweries to gradually replace wooden fermentation tanks with lined concrete vats.[11]


Read about more unusual ways people have died on 10 Truly Unusual Human Deaths and 10 Unusual Ways to Die Through the Ages.

fact checked by Jamie Frater