When constructing sandcastles and tunnels this summer, dig fastidiously—collapsing sand holes can result in suffocation and even death.

While Millions of Americans go on vacation yearly to beaches to search out sun, sand and sea, many will not be aware of how dangerous digging holes within the sand will be. In February 2024, a 7-year-old girl dies after a 1.5-meter-deep hole she and her brother had dug within the sand fell on her and buried her alive.

As a Coastal researchers I, who has been exploring beaches for a few years, was called to assist investigate the girl's death. While many individuals nearby intervened to free the girl after the sand hole collapsed, local firefighters couldn’t arrive until just a few minutes after the incident – too late to resuscitate the victim.

A young girl suffocated in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, in February when a sand hole collapsed on her.

Digging holes within the sand could seem harmless, but when the opening is deep enough and collapses on an individual, it is incredibly difficult to flee. In fact, research suggests more people die more prone to die from suffocation through sand burial than from shark attacks.

Sand Basics

Sand will not be actually a cloth type. It is a category of fabric size, from 0.0025 to 0.08 inches (0.06 to 2 millimeters) in diameter. The Type of sand is set by the materials it’s fabricated from. Quartz sandcomposed of silicon dioxide, is essentially the most common sand found on beaches, apart from tropical coasts where there are coral sand beaches composed of calcium carbonate.

Material that’s coarser than sand doesn’t feel soft – you can not construct stable sandcastles out of it. Silt and clay, that are finer than sand, cloud the water and are commonly known as mud.

The weight of the sand is dependent upon the materials it’s fabricated from. Reiner Quartz sand Beaches with very white sand weigh about 90 kilos per cubic foot when dry.

However, most beaches contain a mixture of minerals that give the sand a tan or brown appearance. The minerals that make the sand darker are much heavier – the sand on most beaches weighs as much as 130 kilos per cubic foot when dry.

Dry, loose grains of sand form a pile with an inclination angle of about 33 degrees, which Angle of reposeThe angle of repose is the steepest angle at which a pile of grains stays stable, and the Frictional force between the person grains determines this stability.

A pile of sand where the angle of inclination of the pile is called the
The angle of repose describes the inclination of a pile of sand.
Davius/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Sand is more stable when it’s wet since the Surface tension between water and sand grains can hold the pile of sand vertically in place. However, once it dries, the pile collapses because there is no such thing as a longer any surface tension.

So in the event you dig a hole on the beach, it can stay stable so long as the sand stays moist. Once it dries, the opening will collapse.

Sand is unstable

If the sand forming the opening dries out, or someone stands near the sting of the opening and adds extra weight, the sand hole collapses and the heavy grains of sand fill all of the open spaces in the opening, leaving the trapped person with no air to breathe.

While skiers are trapped in avalanches, they will use their hands form an air bubble Snow is light, but collapsing sand will not be.

Rescuing an individual from a collapsed sand hole could be very difficult because sand is each heavy and unstable. While rescuers shovel away sand to free the victim, the opening will proceed to collapse under the burden of the rescuers and refill with sand again. The rescuers have only about three to 5 minutes to rescue an individual trapped in a sand hole before he suffocates.

When professionals similar to firefighters rescue someone from a collapsed sand hole, they place boards across the opening. This allows them to succeed in down and take away the sand with tools without putting weight directly on the sting of the opening.

Experts recommend never digging a hole deeper than the knee height of the smallest person in your group—the utmost depth is 2 feet (0.6 meters).

To rescue someone from a collapsing sand hole, deal with exposing the mouth and removing the sand from the chest. Exposing the mouth will help you Mouth to mouth resuscitation while other rescuers proceed to dig out their chests.

Too many individuals crowding right into a sand hole rescue can do more harm than good. Only two or three rescuers should work within the immediate area of ​​the victim while others work to clear the sand from the broader digging area, making it easier for the people in the middle to remove the sand. The people on the periphery can clear the sand from the central area with whatever they’ve at their disposal, from buckets and shovels to beach chairs and boogie boards.

A long, narrow sand hole about two feet deep.
A sand hole after a collapse in New Jersey.
Stephen Leatherman

Case studies

Collapsing sand holes resulted in 31 deathspredominantly children and 87% male, from 1997 to 2007 within the USA. During this era 21 others were involved within the collapse of a sand hole but survived, although many required cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Victims of the sand hole collapse have aged 3 to 21 years. The Holes were generally 0.6 to 4.6 meters in diameter and 0.6 to three.7 meters deep. Digging, tunneling, jumping and falling into the opening have inadvertently led to the collapse.

These collapses can occur suddenlyand in situations that don't seem dangerous to most individuals. Next time you go to the beach, look ahead to sand holes and fill them as soon as possible. Even a shallow hole can injure someone who stumbles into it.

image credit : theconversation.com