Buying Time When Buried Alive

Being buried alive is a frightening thing for anyone. There’s plenty of ways it can happen; a few common ones include:

  • Being assumed dead when actually not (e.g., tetrodotoxin)
  • Being buried by a bad guy (or as a hostage)
  • Coming back to life (as a zombie, through magic, etc.)

If you return from the dead, then there’s not a whole lot to be done, you really just have to dig your way out. Depending on how you came back, you may or may not be at risk of dying again, so oxygen deprivation may or may not be an issue.

If you were believed to be dead, then you are probably in trouble because nobody is looking for you.

But what if you were buried by a bad guy? In the movie Buried, Ryan Reynolds’ character is taken hostage and while they wait for the ransom, he is stashed in a box underground. Towards the end of the first season of The Following, an FBI agent is buried alive as a way to torture the main character.

How can you survive? How can you buy time until you are rescued? Obviously oxygen is going to be your most immediate problem. You need to conserve oxygen as much as possible.

First and foremost, the best way to conserve oxygen is simply to sleep. Breathing rate drops significantly when we sleep, so sleeping will help to use as little oxygen as possible.

Another way to buy time is to create more oxygen. How do you create oxygen? Simple; just split water.

If you have some source of electricity like a phone battery, then you can split water molecules (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Simply take the battery out, use some sort of conductive write like a pin to create “electrodes” and hold them against the two ends of the battery. Then put the two electrodes into the water and let the electricity split water molecules into breathable air.

You may be wondering where you can get water in a box underground. Assuming that the box isn’t conveniently leaking groundwater, then you have saliva which has a lot of water, but urine has even more. Pee into the corner and put the electrodes in there. You should be able to get enough oxygen to buy at least some time until rescue arrives.

There are a few caveats with this however:

  • When you split water, you create both oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen is not breathable and anyone who knows of the Hindenburg will tell you that it is extremely combustible, so any spark (like from a short-circuit from a battery!) could blow up you and your casket.
  • There are plenty of other compounds in urine like urea (CO(NH2)2) as well as Chlorine, Sodium, and Potassium. It may be possible to create other harmful gases when electrolysing urine.
  • You will want to make sure to use your phone (if possible) to call for help before pulling out the battery. If you actually do have reception and your phone has GPS, then it’s best to just leave it on and sleep.
  • one more thing…

It may be dangerous to electrolyse urine, but if you’re about to die anyway, then it may be worth the chance to buy some time.