NICOLA Bulley died in "two breaths"in less than seconds after falling in 4C water, an inquest heard today.
The mum-of-two's final moments were revealed after she fell into the River Wyre from a "cliff-edge drop" on January 27.
Once in the water, Nicola, 45, travelled at a "metre a second" downstream in the "steady flow" of the river, the inquest heard.
The court was told the water was just 4C when Nicola vanished, which is cold enough to lead to cold water shock and cause a person's muscles to seize up.
Diving expert Professor Mike Tipton said she would have lost consciousness almost instantly.
He also suggested she would have drowned in "one or two breaths" due to her size and the temperature of the water.
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Professor Tipton added: "The lethal dose of water into the lungs, with freshwater, is two litres.
"In that first breath [for a person of similar weight to Nicola] you would have taken in 1-2 litres. So it would only take maybe one or two breaths to cross the lethal dose."
The inquest also heard from PC Matthew Thackray from the North West Police Underwater Search & Marine Unit, who described the drop into the water where Nicola vanished as a "cliff edge".
The officer told the inquest: "It's my belief that if she did fall in she was probably floating and being pushed along the flow."
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When asked if it would be possible to climb out of the river once in, he added: "No not at all… it's very difficult to get out of the water here.
"There is nothing to grab hold of to help yourself back out."
It would have taken two to three minutes to reach a point where Nicola could climb out the river, which PC Thackray said was an "awfully long time in very cold water".
A full, two-day inquest into Nicola's death opened today at Preston's County Hall in front of partner Paul Ansell, sister Louise Cunningham and parents Ernest and Dot Bulley.
Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour, who carried out a post mortem on Nicola, gave her cause of death as drowning.
The expert said she believed Nicola was alive when she entered the water and confirmed there was no sign she had been assaulted before her death and no indication of third party involvement.
Dr Armour said the internal examination found “classic signs” of asphyxia, which happens when the body is deprived of oxygen, but there was no sign of trauma to Nicola's neck.
The court was also told "flecks and fragments of dirt" were found inside Nicola's throat and there was water in and around her lungs, which are "typical features" seen in drowning.
Nicola also had several bruises on her body – including on her right arm – and "therapeutic levels" of a beta blocker in her system.
Dr Armour confirmed Nicola had not been drinking before her death.
Mortgage adviser Nicola vanished without a trace after dropping her two daughters, aged six and nine, off at school in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
Tragically, her body was found in the river on February 19 – three weeks after she vanished.
Her disappearance gripped the nation after it was revealed her mobile was found on a bench by the river still connected to a work conference call.
Nicola's pet springer spaniel Willow was also discovered – but there was no trace still of the mum of two.
Lancashire Police refused to waver from their "main working hypothesis" that she fell in the river.
But Nicola's family including partner Paul said they did not believe the theory and urged people to continue searching.
They also hired dive expert Peter Faulding, who used £50,000 sonar equipment to scour the water.
He later pulled out of the hunt, saying he did not believe Nicola was in the river as she could have "stood up" if she fell in.
Pressure is now mounting on Lancashire Police over Nicola's disappearance after a series of blunders during the probe.
The mum's body was found by two dog walkers less than a mile from where she was last seen despite a "hugely complex and highly emotional" search.
The force also came under fire for disclosing painfully personal details of Nicola's struggle with alcohol and the perimenopause.
They confirmed she had "vulnerabilities" at the time she went missing and was a high-risk missing person.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were among officials questioning why the information was revealed.
The police watchdog also launched a probe into a "welfare check" carried out at Nicola's home just 17 days before she vanished.
An independent review is also being carried out over the force's handling of the case after being ordered by Lancashire's Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden.
The inquest continues.
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