Ask LH: Why Do Feet Detach First from People Who Have Drowned?

Ask LH: Why Do Feet Detach First from People Who Have Drowned?

I think it goes without saying here, but this article deals with pretty graphic details about the human body and death. It may be unsettling for some, so take this as a trigger warning, please.

In recent weeks there have been a number of reports regarding Sydney businesswoman Melissa Caddick and the discovery of her foot at Bournda Beach in NSW.

As the ABC reports, the “badly decomposed foot” was discovered still in an ASICS sneaker by campers back in February.

The story, as shocking as it is, is not particularly unique. As the Sydney Morning Herald shares, more than 21 disembodied feet have washed up along the British Columbian coast of Canada over the years.

“Really large numbers of individual feet washed up on beaches of the west coast of Canada, British Columbia and the adjoining US state of Washington,” Dr Matthew Orde, a forensic pathologist with the University of British Columbia, told SMH.

But why are feet washing ashore?

Although it may seem like some disturbing trend in the deaths of these people whose body parts have been discovered, the reason behind the appearance of these feet is actually quite simple.

As Vox writes, it’s normal for bodies to disarticulate (or detach at the joints) after a period submerged underwater. This means that hands and feet often do separate from the body.

Gail Anderson, co-director of the Center for Forensic Research at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia told Vox:

“Feet easily disarticulate and when they are attached to a flotation device such as a running shoe, they are easily washed ashore.

“Notice there are no feet washing ashore in stiletto heels or flip-flops. Also, today’s running shoes are much more buoyant than in the past.”

Similarly, Dr Orde told SMH that the build of modern sneakers both protects the foot and allows it to travel substantial distances.

From this, you could deduce that it’s not necessarily that feet are most likely to detach first from the body (compared to hands) but rather, that when running shoes are involved, the combination increases the chances that a decomposing foot will be discovered washed up on a shoreline somewhere.

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