Deaths involving sensory deprivation tanks are very rare. We describe a unique case in which a previously healthy 50-year-old woman apparently died while floating in a sensory deprivation tank at her residence. Autopsy failed to reveal definitive anatomical abnormalities pointing to the cause of death. A thorough scene investigation, full medicolegal autopsy to include toxicological analyses, and a complete investigation into the equipment at the scene, were conducted. Blood toxicologic studies were significant for the presence of ethanol (0.27%) and a mixture of over-the-counter sedating medications and prescription drugs. The cause of death was ruled as acute mixed drug and ethanol toxicity combined with probable environmental hyperthermia; manner was accident. This case report will help the forensic community understand the intended use of flotation tanks, as well as possible risks associated with improper use.
© 2010 American Academy of Forensic Sciences.