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The signs to look for when someone is drowning

In a mock drowning, a team of lifeguards from Life Time show what it looks like when a person drowns.

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — The pictures of Nicole and Jim Botzet's daughter Kortni are limited. 

"[Here's] her first day of school. First day as a kindergartener... only first day of school," Nicole said while looking at a photo album. 

The Botzets have six-and-a-half years worth of photos, ending with the final picture, taken on the last day of Kortni's life.

"That's our last picture of her," Nicole said. "That was taken that day."

The picture shows a smiling Kortni sitting in a hot tub at an Alexandria hotel. It's the same hot tub where she would later drown, going under the water silently as three adult family friends sat nearby.

Credit: Botzet Family
Kortni Botzet pictured in the hotel hot tub in which she drowned on May 2, 2010. Her parents said she likely passed out from the heat and slipped under the water.

Jim was watching his then 18-month-old son at the time, within sight of where Kortni went under. She didn't splash. She didn't yell. 

"You don't go down like that," Jim said. "That's all Hollywood."

So how does a person drown?

We asked a team of lifeguards at the Chanhassen Life Time to demonstrate. Here's what they said you should look for.

1. Bobbing up and down while vertical in the water: If the person is in what's called "active drowning" (ie - not yet unconscious), they will be bobbing in the water, surfacing to gasp for breath before quickly going back under. They will be reaching around for something to grab onto.

"They're not swimming," said Tiffany Press, Aquatics Leader at the Chanhassen Life Time, "They're usually standing still [in the water], not being able to get very far."

2. Head tilted back: A drowning person's head will be tilted back, so their mouth is parallel with the surface of the water. They will gasp for breath as they break through the surface of the water, before going back down. 

Credit: KARE
A lifeguard at the Chanhassen Life Time demonstrates what it looks like when someone drowns. His head is tilted back as he bobs up and down in the water.

3. They will not yell: You've heard the saying "drowning is silent." A person who is actively drowning will not scream for help. 

"They're so focused on trying to breathe that nothing else actually comes out of their mouth," Press said.

4. They slip under water quickly: Press said it usually takes less than 30 seconds for someone to drown. 

Here's what to do if someone is drowning:

1. If you can touch the bottom of the pool while standing, swim out to the drowning person with a flotation device. Put the device underneath their arms, then get behind them. 

"You'd want to go up behind your child so your child doesn't push you under the water," said Press.

Credit: KARE
A lifeguard puts a flotation device under the arms of another guard who is demonstrating how a person drowns.

2. "Throw, Don't Go." If the water is deep, throw a floatation device instead.

"So you don't go yourself, so you can keep yourself safe," said Press. 

More than anything, the Botzet family wants others to know that drowning is not what you might think. 

"It's silent. Drowning is silent," Nicole said. 

Kortni would have graduated high school on June 3. She was in kindergarten when she died 12 years ago. 

Her parents started a nonprofit called Kortni's Path. In addition to advocating for water safety, it raised money which funded $120,000 in scholarships, given to 20 kids who were in Kortni's kindergarten class and are now high school seniors set to graduate.

Kortni's parents have spent the final days of May handing out the scholarships to Kortni's former classmates, who are about to embark a stage of life which their daughter never will. 

"This was our way to simply make a difference and be able to help everyone that was in her class," Nicole said.

There are even more safety concerns with hot tubs, because kids are more susceptible to overheating than adults. Kortni's parents think she got too hot, passed out, and went under the water.

The CDC says kids under 5 shouldn't be in hot tubs at all. For kids older than that, the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance says the temperature in the tub should be dropped to 98 degrees and children should never be in for longer than 15 minutes at a time.

In addition to supervision, learning to swim reduces the risk of drowning. Life Time offers courses here, you can also usually find lessons through your city, or the YMCA.

RELATED: MN Sen. Klobuchar introduces bipartisan legislation to enhance pool safety, prevent child drownings

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