Dangers of Digging on the Beach
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.
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.”
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. ■
Born between the ocean and sound on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Alexi Holian can’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing. Along with contributing to island publications like My Outer Banks Home, The Outer Banks Wedding Guide, and Outer Banks This Week, she has covered everything from Miami food festivals to St. Barth sailing for travel and hospitality brands around the world.