The Hidden Beach Hazard: Sand Holes and How to Stay Safe

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Boy digging a sand hole on the beach.

Image: beardean, iStock

Beaches are often synonymous with fun, relaxation, and cherished family memories. But amid the soothing sound of crashing waves and the warm embrace of the sun lies a hidden danger that tragically claimed the life of 7-year-old Sloan Mattingly. In February, during what should have been a joyous family vacation to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, Sloan and her brother Maddox, 9, were engulfed by a collapsed sand hole as they innocently played on the shore.

Tragedy on the beach

The incident unfolded as the children dug for seashells in the sand while their parents watched nearby. Suddenly, the ground beneath them gave way, trapping both siblings alive. What followed was a frantic rescue effort by their parents and other beachgoers, who rushed to their aid, calling 9-1-1 and digging fervently to free the children from the sandy abyss.

Maddox was pulled out first, but Sloan remained trapped for over 15 minutes before being freed. Despite the valiant efforts of those involved and the swift medical attention she received, Sloan tragically succumbed to the ordeal, leaving her family shattered and grieving.

The Mattingly family's heart-wrenching experience highlights a beach hazard often overlooked: sand holes. While concerns about water safety are prevalent and widely discussed, the potential dangers lurking beneath the sand are seldom acknowledged.

Indeed, the absence of warnings or guidelines regarding the permissible depth of sand holes or the risks of sinkholes on beaches contributes to a lack of awareness among beachgoers.

How to stay safe from hazardous sand holes at the beach

Experts emphasize that any hole dug in the sand should never exceed the depth of the shortest person present—typically no deeper than knee height. This simple guideline can significantly reduce the risk of sand collapses and potential entrapment. However, the absence of such warnings on beaches underscores the need for greater awareness and proactive safety measures.

Sloan's legacy

In response to Sloan's tragic accident, the town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is raising awareness and enhancing beach safety measures. Mayor Chris Vincent revealed plans for a national safety campaign aimed at coastal communities, emphasizing the importance of educating beachgoers about the hazards of sand holes and promoting responsible digging practices.

Sloan's parents advocate for change and honor their daughter's memory, urging beach visitors to remain vigilant and proactive. "And strangers, if you see something that's dangerous, take the courage and say something," Sloan's father told People, echoing the importance of collective responsibility in safeguarding beachgoers.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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