I recently ran into a former customer of Shawmut Diner who was stopping by before going to work at Horseneck Beach in Westport. Matt was a nationally certified lifeguard.
We talked about the recent tragedy of the young man from Maine who was buried alive after a pit he and his sister had dug on a beach in Toms River, New Jersey, collapsed on top of them. The sister was in the 8-10 foot deep hole when the walls gave way, but she was rescued. His brother, however, was crushed and suffocated by the weight of the collapsing walls.
“This sand is like sugar! Beachgoers think these sand holes are harmless, but they easily become death traps,” he warned. “We were constantly reminding families that a deep hole can easily collapse suddenly, without warning,” he said.
It was Matt’s responsibility to go to the parent of the child who was digging a sand hole and tell them that it was not safe to dig deep holes on the beach.
“Most of the time it was a knee-jerk reaction, like I heard you right?” he said. “But I would tell them all, the rule was simple: you can dig holes on the beach as long as they only take up a small area, and they are no deeper than the knees of the smallest person in the group. Most of the times the adults thanked me, but I also heard my share of good words.”
Although he never had a death on his watch, he recalls that a few years ago on a popular beach in Chatham, a lucky 15-year-old girl miraculously survived in a deep hole when sand wet fell on her, weighing like a ton of bricks.
“She was encased in heavy, wet sand up to her neck,” he said. “She couldn’t move an inch, immersed in stone cold sand that weighed down on her chest, making her agonizing to breathe. We figured she had at least 900 pounds of compression around her. Can you imagine 900 pounds on your chest?”
Matt hopes his warning can help save a life. It’s one of those dangers that people don’t realize, that deep holes in the beach are powerful enough to suffocate someone buried inside. Now that you know, pass it on and have a safe summer at the beach.
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Many of the towns included jump out at the casual observer as popular summer rental spots – Branson of the Ozarks, Missouri or Lake Havasu in Arizona – it might surprise you to dive deeper into some quality of life offerings at beyond the beach and vacation homes. You’ll likely learn about a wide range of Americana: one of the last 1950s-style drive-ins in the Midwest; a Florida town that began as a retirement area for Civil War veterans; an island teeming with some of the nation’s best public schools and revenue streams smack dab in the middle of a lake between Seattle and Bellevue; and even a California town containing more than the prison blues of Johnny Cash.