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Five-year-old girl dies after digging large hole in sand

Sloan Mattingly
Sloan Mattingly died despite the efforts of rescuers to save her

A five-year-old girl has died and her nine-year-old brother taken to hospital after a sand hole they had been digging collapsed on top of them in Florida.

Sloan and Maddox Mattingly from Indiana were playing at a beach in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, 33 miles north of Miami when the hole gave way.

Frantic beachgoers used their bare hands to try to dig the children out of the five-foot-deep sand hole before emergency services arrived.

Investigators on the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea take pictures of the scene where a young girl died after being buried in sand
Investigators on the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea take pictures of the scene where a young girl died after being buried in sand - MIKE STOCKER/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL

A witness told a local news outlet: “You saw grown men digging with shovels and buckets and nobody could find her.”

It was unclear how long the children were trapped in the sandhole at a beach, which does not have lifeguard supervision but by the time rescuers were on the scene Maddox was chest-deep in the sand and Sloan could not be seen.

The rescue team used shovels in a desperate attempt to dig the children out and support boards to prevent the sand from caving in further.

‘Unfathomable accident’

When the girl was uncovered she didn’t have a pulse, said Sandra King, a spokesperson for Pompano Beach Fire Rescue.

She described the tragedy as “an unfathomable accident”.

The children were rushed to the nearby Broward Health Medical Center while paramedics tried in vain to revive Sloan.

“We were conducting life-saving techniques to try to bring her pulse back and it never did recover and she was pronounced dead at the hospital.”

“Our hearts are heavy in LBTS today after learning two children were trapped in the sand,” the Town of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea said in a statement on Facebook.

Sandholes are a known risk. Only last week a toddler was trapped at a beach on Jersey Shore, but his panic-stricken father was able to save him.

In May last year, a  17-year-old boy from Chesapeake, Virginia died when a sand dune collapsed on top of him at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Frisco, North Carolina.

According to one estimate, it was the fourth such death in just 12 months. The holes pose a greater risk to beachgoers than shark attacks.

‘Holes are hazardous’

The American Lifeguard Association has long warned about the dangers of sand holes.

Wyatt Werneth, the association’s spokesman, said: “This is something we deal with on a daily basis.

“What we don’t have very often are tragic events. What we will do is cover up holes before they get to the point that they get to the point that they could collapse.

“These holes are hazardous. Sand is very fluid. As you are digging a hole it starts filling up and it is something to be aware of.

“This is a very preventable issue. If you swim in front of a lifeguard or go to a protected part of a beach where they are, they won’t let this occur.

“They will ask you to stop and fill in the hole. There are warnings about digging holes on most lifeguard websites.

“Mums, dads, uncles, family members should be aware if their children are doing something which could be hazardous. You are dealing with Mother Nature, you have to know of the dangers and act accordingly.

“You should leave the natural environment the way that you found it.”