Collapsed Sand Tunnel Causes Two Deaths

ByABC News via via logo

M A R I N   C O U N T Y, Calif., July 24, 2001 -- A playful day at the beach turned dangerous, and in some cases deadly, for several young people buried alive while digging in the sand this summer.

A 12-year-old boy was digging into the side of a sand dune when he was trapped in a collapsed sand tunnel and unable to breathe for several minutes at a beach in Marin County, Calif. He died Sunday at Children's Hospital in Oakland.

But he's not the only one. On June 15, an Indiana teen was severely injured after collapsing sand buried him in a 7-foot pit that he had jumped into while joking with friends and relatives. And on June 11, a 16-year-old boy was buried in sand when a beach tunnel he was digging at Loveladies beach in Long Beach, N.J. collapsed.

Chris Brewster, chief of the San Diego lifeguard service, warned that digging holes at the beach can result in cave-ins. And when holes are dug and left behind they can also pose a danger for people walking, jogging or playing sports on the sand.

"Once they cave in, if they cave in around somebody, there are a couple of problems," said Brewster on Good Morning America. "One is that sand can get in the airway of the person and they can't breathe so they can suffocate."

Sand Dune Collapses

The most recent incident involved Michael Newell of Cameron Park, Calif., who has been in critical condition since Friday. He had been on a camping trip with his family at Lawson's Landing, a beach and campground at the mouth of Tomales Bay, about 60 miles northwest of San Francisco.

Newell and another boy had apparently dug a hole about a foot or two wide and about three or four feet deep into the side of the large sand dune hill, authorities said. Such dunes can be as large as houses, authorities said.

Newell was inside the hole when the dune collapsed on top of him. The younger boy was able to escape.

Paramedics with the Marin County Fire Department said Newell was not breathing when they arrived and had been trapped without air for five to six minutes. Michael had no vital signs, but paramedics were able to revive his pulse before loading him onto a helicopter Friday.

Buried for 20 Minutes

In the Indiana case, the 15-year-old boy was trapped for about five minutes before friends and lifeguards pulled him out, breathing but unconscious. And in the New Jersey incident, it took rescue workers about 20 minutes to pull 16-year-old Daniel Correll out of the sand. He had no heartbeat and was unconscious.

Correll and a cousin had been digging holes up to six feet deep on the beach and connecting them with a tunnel when the sand gave way.

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