Is it possible? In the case of cameras, apparently it is.
A couple of weeks ago I was checking out the early (too early as it turned out) fall colors up one of the local Wasatch Mountain canyons. Coming down from the long hike I was not a little tired and fording a small stream slipped. I often hike with a tripod-mounted camera in one hand and, and, depending upon the scenery, an infrared camera in the other with the rest of the gear in my Lowe Pro back pack. This was not the first time I have fallen with no hands free to protect myself, so you’d think, to paraphrase my understanding wife, that I’d learn. Evidently, not so.
At any rate, down I went into the stream, my right hand holding aloft the tripod and my Pentax K-20 mounted with a Sigma 10-20mm. Approximately $2000 worth of non-water proof gear. I got wet but not that gear. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for my infrared-converted Pentax DS: it flew out of my hand and into a pool of water. The pained squawking noise I was making had less to do with my bruised posterior than with the fact that I was watching my out-of-reach camera (mounted with a prime Pentax 20mm f/2.8 lens) slowly sink to the bottom of the shallow pool. I felt like the proverbial turtle on its back: in an awkward position, struggling to right myself and reach my submerged camera. It didn’t help that the backpack and muscle cramp in my left calf was conspiring to keep me ground-bound and my camera submerged.
Finally I was able to pull myself up and grab the camera strap to lift my dripping camera out of the water. It seemed like it had been under for several minutes but in reality it was certainly no more than 10-20 seconds. Time enough! Even the weather seals on my K10 and K20 would have been hard-pressed to resist the cold, flowing stream water.
I pulled the batteries out -- if ever in a similar situation, don’t turn on a wet camera as you run a good chance of shorting out the electronics -- and opened up the various doors, pulled the SD card out and twisted the lens off. Water ran out of every orifice. “Toast!” I thought, “Perhaps the camera docs can breathe life back into it.”
Once home I opened all the camera’s doors and left the lens off in the hopes that our dry Utah climate would work its magic on the camera. The lens itself was fine. If I had had a cheap plastic lens perhaps I would not have fared so well, but this 20mm is a fine prime and apparently well-sealed.
After a couple of days, I dropped some batteries in and turned on the camera. All seemed well at first as I reset the date but then all of a sudden the LCD panel began displaying characters that looked to be a cross between Cyrillic and Klingon. Looking at the LCD monitor I could clearly see water behind the glass. I quickly pulled the batteries out and gave it another day. Returning to it a day later I popped the batteries in, set the date and Lo and Behold (imagine trumpets and angels), it lives!
Perhaps life after drowning is not as rare as I had imagined. I found several posts online discussing just this and also advanced some additional treatments such as the use of white rice (uncooked, to be sure) and silica packs to help absorb water. These would likely help in more humid environs than the Southwest. I’m a happy infrared camper once again and I swear that the dowsing even took care of three annoying spots on the sensor I could not seem to remove by more reasonable measures. Of course, I can’t recommend to everyone sensor cleaning via drowning, but it seems to have worked for me!