An In-Depth Study of Drowning Near-Death Experiencers,  
by Jody A. Long, J.D.


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ABSTRACT:  This is a retrospective study of near-death experiencers who died from drowning.  The main question was whether the cause of death affected the experience in any way.  Comparisons were done between drowning and cardiac arrest victims and then cross-compared with a population of general NDEs. Since almost 70% of the drowning victims were children, age was also explored as a factor.  The data suggests that there is a statistically significant difference in the NDE according to the type of death one experiences. 

KEY WORDS:  Drowning, near-death experience, cardiac arrest, WCEI, Components and Weights for the Core Experience Index  Staff Emails

An In-Depth Study of Drowning Near-Death Experiencers  
by Jody

Reprint requests may be sent to Jody A. Long, J.D. at


Recently, it seemed like a lot of child drowning near death experiences (NDEs) were submitted to the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) via the web survey form.  I was curious to find out if there were any difference between child and adult drowning experiences and between drowning experiences versus other types of near-death experiences. 

An article written by Russell Noyes and Donald Slymen, from the early days when NDE research was primarily considered a brain-chemistry phenomena, studied the impact of different ways of dying on certain categories of experiences (Noyes, 1984).  Noyes and Slymen studied falls, drownings, automobile accidents, miscellaneous accidents, and serious illnesses.  There was no delineation between people who actually died and those people who were seriously ill and close to death.  The subjective responses were categorized according to qualities containing the elements of depersonalization, hyper-alertness, and mystical consciousness. 

The mystical factors contained elements such as "great understanding, sense of harmony or unity, feelings of joy, and revelations." (Noyes, pp. 20-21)  Also included were those items labeled as "hallucinatory intensity" such as sharp or vivid images, colors and visions.  The doctors noted that "hallucinations" were responsible for panoramic memories (p. 21).  Although the study had some clear biases, there weren't a lot of studies or accepted scientific language at the time to describe NDEs in the 1980's. 

Depersonalization factors consisted of items from psychological "syndromes" such as unreal observations, detachment from the body and the world, a wall between self and emotions, and altered impressions of time (p. 22).  Hyper-alertness factors were described as vivid thoughts, sharper vision, more acute hearing, and other heighten sensory perception (p.22).  There was overlap in hyper-alertness and mystical experiences.  The mystical experiences seemed to focus on whether the colors or visions were reported, while the hyper-alertness factors concentrated on the lucidity of the experience.  Accident and fall victims reported more depersonalization factors than drowning or miscellaneous accident victims.  Younger people were more likely to report mystical factors (p.26). 

Although this early work was skewed, this was valuable work in that it stands for the proposition that the type of death might rule the depth, perception, recall, and integration of the experience; or perhaps even control to some extent what lessons are brought back when returning to earth. 


This study is a retrospective review of data received from an Internet survey on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) website (Long, 2003). Out of a total of 682 experiences submitted to the website, 329 of these experiences met the research definition of NDE as defined as, "A lucid experience associated with perceived consciousness apart from the body occurring at the time of actual or threatened imminent death" (Long).  There were 307 NDErs who answered that their NDE was caused by drowning.  This answer was either in a narrative description when selecting the check box answer "Other" in either the question asking about condition around the time of experience or other circumstances around the time of the experience, or in describing the experience in the narrative box asking the person to describe their experience in detail. 

A review of all narratives describing the drowning experience was tabulated according to the WCEI (Components and Weights for the Core Experience Index) scale (Ring, K., 1984, p. 38).   Results were then cross-compared with Ken Ring's results from 102 NDErs.  In December 2001, Dr. Pim van Lommel published a ground-breaking Dutch study on 344 cardiac patients where were successfully resuscitated after cardiac arrest (van Lommel, 2001).  The WCEI score from this study was also used and cross compared with the drowning NDEs and general NDEs from Ken Ring's study.

Dr. Jeffrey Long developed an Excel based chi-square calculation engine based on over 2,000 data points.  Calculations are automatically updated when new data is added.  Comparison data from this chi-square engine was used in analysis.


The chart below shows the relative percentages of deep, moderate, or non-experiencers in the categories of drowning, cardiac arrests, and a general NDE population.  Analyzed were 405 narratives with a total of 23 drowning experiences, of which 16 (69.6%) were children and 7 (30.4%) were adults.  Of note is that drowning NDEs appear to have higher percentages (65.2%) of deep experiences compared to a general NDE population or with cardiac arrests.  The highest group of non-experiencers appears to be in the general NDE population with a total of 52%. 

When comparing the expected and observed outcomes, the chi square test shows whether the observed difference is due to chance or if it is statistically significant.  The lower the p-value, the less the difference is due to chance alone.  A p-value under 0.01 is usually considered statistically significant.  Here, there were 307 analyzable experiences using this method with 19 (6.19%) who reported dying by drowning.  Analyzable experiences consist of those people who answered the web survey form and excludes those NDErs who only wrote narratives.  Various elements of the NDE were cross-compared with certain groups to determine if any NDE elements were statistically significant. 

There was no significant difference between the database total of 79 children and the 13 children whose NDE was caused by drowning.  The numbers were too small for cross-comparison of drowning experiences between adults and children.  There were several statistically significant elements between all children and all adults.  However, these differences could be explained by virtue of a longer life expectancy.  For example, more of the child NDErs reported a higher incidence in the categories of "paranormal gifts" and "if anything reproduced the NDE" than adults.  It would be expected that the longer that one lives, the more of a chance that they would have of exploring paranormal gifts and to encounter other experiences that might reproduce the NDE.


Although a bit of dark humor comes up from time to time, such as in contemplating questions like "how dead is dead?," this is a valid concern when comparing the experiences of death by drowning, death by cardiac arrest, or general dying experiences.  It is possible that drowning and cardiac arrest may be more accurately perceived as "death" than the general NDE group.  This would mean that a study group could be skewed by whether or not they actually died or were only close to death.  From the data, it suggests that near death-like experiences generally do not have the depth or intensity as a person who actually dies and comes back.  Please note that this is not to say that the effects of a NDE versus a NDE-like event are any less significant to the experiencer.  That is an entirely different issue and beyond the scope of this paper.

A chi square analysis between the expected and observed values between all three categories is statistically significant with the following p-values:

Drowning and cardiac victims    0.047
            General and cardiac victims        0.078
            General and drowning victims    0.00046 

In the van Lommel study, it was noted that one could not predict who would have a NDE or how deep the experience would be (van Lommel, p. 2039).  However, he did observe that age may play a part in the process, with younger patients more likely to have a NDE and subsequently report a core NDE.  It appears that those who die by drowning have more core experiences that those who die by cardiac arrest.  As noted earlier, the drowning victims consisted of almost 70% children, as defined as under the age of 18.  There were no frightening experiences reported by drowning victims.  The chi square analysis between adults and children yield no statistically significant differences.  Consequently, while it is possible that the drowning victims experienced more core and moderate experiences due to age, it is doubtful that age alone is responsible for the differences seen between drowning, cardiac arrest, and a general NDE population.

Is there a certain type of death that is less traumatic for the soul? Or perhaps one that is less stressful or less damaging to the interface between brain and mind?  Emotions organize memories and enhance memory retrieval (Long Jody, Soulmates, 2002).  Emotions are also the universal constant in that they exist both, while in the body and on the other side (Long, Jody, Emotions, 2003).  Just as water birthing is considered less traumatic for a baby, perhaps a water death is an easier transition between the worlds than other types of death.

From studying the effect of emotions on brain and consciousness, memory organization and integration of the NDE, drowning may be a less stressful dying process. Perhaps children are less rigid in their belief system and therefore less emotionally bruised by drowning - ergo, they are more able to experience, remember and integrate a NDE than an adult.  At any rate, the data suggests that there could be a type of death where the experience is more easily remembered and integrated into earthly life.  Certainly, the way a person dies could be a major contributory factor in the dying process.

The preceding hypotheses present some intriguing possibilities, but needs further study.  A multivariate statistical analysis may help determine for sure if the differences are due to age, some other variable or if the statistical significance noted above is due solely to the physical cause of the NDE and the amount of emotional shock received from the trauma.    


Long, Jody (2003) Emotions and the Near-Death Experience,

Long, Jody (2002) Soulmates and Consciousness, New Understandings from Near-Death Experience Research,

Long, Jody and Long, Jeffrey (2003) http:\\

Noyes, R. and Slyman, D. (1984) The Subjective Response to Life-Threatening Danger, B. Greyson and C. Flynn (Eds), The Near-Death Experience, Problems, Prospects, Perspectives, (pp. 17-29).  Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Ring, Kenneth (1984) Measuring the Near-Death Experience, B. Greyson and C. Flynn (Eds), The Near-Death Experience, Problems, Prospects, Perspectives, (pp. 37-44).  Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

van Lommel, P. et al. (2001) Near Death Experience In Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands, The Lancet, 358, 2039-2042.


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