Dangers of Digging on the Beach

SandHoleDanger

It is a sad day when something completely recreational can lead to tragedy.  Last month, David Frasier and his family were vacationing at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore when Frasier decided to partake in a seemingly common beach activity: digging in the sand.

He was attempting to tunnel between two holes about six feet deep when the sand collapsed, burying him. By the time rescue personnel arrived, family and bystanders were pulling Frasier from the sand. He had been buried for about 10 to 15 minutes and was unresponsive. A nearby registered nurse attempted to revive him, but he died at the scene.

July 21: photo released by the Half Moon Bay Review shows emergency crew workers and volunteers working to rescue a man at Francis State Beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Authorities say a young man has died after a hole he dug on a Northern California beach collapsed and trapped him in the sand for at least five minutes.AP Photo/Half Moon Bay Review, Dean Coppola

July 21, 2014: photo released by the Half Moon Bay Review shows emergency crew workers and volunteers working to rescue a man at Francis State Beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Authorities say a young man has died after a hole he dug on a Northern California beach collapsed and trapped him in the sand for at least five minutes. AP Photo/Half Moon Bay Review, Dean Coppola

When people are at the beach, their biggest concern is the ocean. They’ve heard of rip currents and deep water, sharks and jellyfish, but most of them have never heard of the dangers of digging in the sand.

The most obvious concern is that people and animals can fall into holes. This often happens to nighttime beachgoers who are stargazing or searching for crabs with flashlights.

Another group largely affected by holes on the beach are the lifeguards. Any vehicle on the beach is in danger of getting stuck in a hole, but the ocean rescue guards are on the beach every day and sometimes at night making sure that everyone is safe. Their four-wheeler and truck wheels can get wedged into holes, sometimes damaging the vehicles and equipment to the point where the lifeguard can no longer respond to a call.

Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue supervisor Devin Clark says that lifeguards have also been injured after crashing into these hidden obstacles.

“I personally have been thrown from a bike while responding to a call from hitting an unseen hole,” Clark said. “I was luckily only shaken up and not seriously injured, which is not always the case. I know of several other accounts where supervisors hit holes and have bruised ribs or broken bones.”

Volunteers help free loggerhead from the sand. Photo courtesy Richard Fowlkes/South Walton Turtle Watch.

Volunteers help free loggerhead from the sand. Photo courtesy Richard Fowlkes/South Walton Turtle Watch.

Lastly, the wildlife does not appreciate holes. The wild Spanish Mustangs in Carova are in danger of tripping in holes and injuring themselves, while loggerhead sea turtles could face death. According to South Walton Turtle Watch, turtles coming onto the beach to lay eggs sometimes fall into holes and cannot return to the ocean or lay their eggs in a safe place. These turtles are only able to move forward, so they end up digging themselves further into the sand.

The greater danger of digging is that the sand will collapse on someone. Unlike dirt and clay, sand is unstable and is known for collapsing without warning.  It also tends to replace itself as soon as it is scooped away. When a hole collapses on someone, it usually leaves no trace of the buried victim, which can make rescue efforts difficult because rescuers do not always know where to dig and cannot use any heavy equipment.

In a study conducted by Bradley A. Maron, M.D. of the Harvard Medical School, there were 52 documented cases in the United States over a 10 year period of people being submerged while digging holes in the sand. These incidents most commonly happened on the beach.  Of the 52 cases, 31 resulted in death. Not included in the study was the death of David Frasier.

Luckily, accidents like this can be avoided by following some simple rules:

• Never dig a hole deeper than the knees of the smallest person in the group
• No tunneling whatsoever
• Always fill in holes when you leave the beach; lifeguards do it all the time

Clark said, “Please think of others when you are digging holes, and fill them in before you leave that day.”

This is not to say that you cannot cover someone in sand for a humorous picture. Just follow our tips for staying safe, and you will have a great time.  Maybe opt for a sand castle or sand art instead of digging a deep hole. There are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself at the beach. ■

 

Showing 8 comments
  • Ed
    Reply

    Last year on the 4×4, I hit a hole that dropped my Jeep’s whole front end about 2 to 3 feet. It was sudden and shook both me and the wife, up! I cursed EVERY hole digger for this! Glad that this is pointed out, because it puts EVERYONE in danger! Fortunately, I had no trouble at all, getting out. . .thanks to my tires being aired down properly, and it was a JEEP! So, we picked right up from where we left off. WHY, do grown people dig such deep holes and not fill them in! Blast you ALL, and may your armpits be filled with the fleas of a thousand camels!

  • Katherine
    Reply

    Sadly, posting signs won’t even help for many. When you look at how many people go in the water on red flag days, looking out for the lifeguard so they can scramble out before they are busted…. I hope at least a few families see this and a child’s life is saved.

  • Ginny
    Reply

    Good article, unfortunately you can’t fix stupid. That said, just hope DOW doesn’t see this. Not only do we need beach driving and fire permits but ORVs have been banned at night. This will serve as ammo to require digging permits or ban digging completely.

  • Nancy Aycock
    Reply

    wonderful seeing your name in print. well researched and informative. Jeff stepped in a hole that had partially covered the still hot remains of a fire on the beach. Thankfully he escaped injury.

  • Michelle Wagner
    Reply

    great article!! Very informative, timely and well-written!!

  • rhonda loy
    Reply

    Good Job Lexi

  • J. June Jordan
    Reply

    Very nice and informative article. I hope your cautions reach a large audience of locals and visitors.
    June

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