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18-Year-Old Dies After Sand Dune Collapses on Him—How to Stay Safe at the Beach

Officials are warning beachgoers about the hidden dangers of sand.

As the weather warms up, many of us are finally getting ready to head to the beach. But before you set out for fun in the sun, you should be aware that this beloved summer activity comes with its fair share of risks—and not just in the water. This past weekend, a teenager died at a beach in North Carolina after a sand dune collapsed on him. And sadly, this kind of tragedy is not unprecedented. Read on for some essential safety tips before your next excursion.

READ THIS NEXT: If You Notice This at the Beach, Stay Out of the Water, Experts Warn.

A teenager died due to a sand dune collapse over the weekend.

Sign of Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, USA.

The National Park Service (NPS) released an alert on May 6, informing the public that an 18-year-old had been involved in a fatal accident at a North Carolina beach. According to the alert, the unnamed male from Chesapeake, Virginia died "as a result of being trapped under several feet of sand" at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Frisco.

"Preliminary findings from an investigation indicate the teen dug the deep hole in a back-dune area behind the primary dune and not visible from the beachfront," the NPS explained. Friends and family had found the teenager buried under several feet of sand, after parts of the dune had collapsed in the sand hole.

Medical officials attempted to administer CPR to the 18-year-old, but "resuscitation effort were not successful," according to the alert.

"Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers our condolences to his family and friends," David Hallac, superintendent for the National Parks of Eastern North Carolina, said in a statement.

These incidents happen more often than expected.

Dry sand land with a big dug hole close up

Sand collapses are a real concern at any beach, and this is far from the first time a dune incident has turned deadly.

Last May, a teenager died at a New Jersey beach while he and his sister were digging a hole in the sand, The Washington Post reported. Also 18 at the time, Levi Caverly from Union, Maine, was visiting Toms River, New Jersey, with his family. While Levi and his sister were making a 10-foot-hole using Frisbees, it collapsed and trapped them—ultimately resulting in Levi's death.

Bradley Maron, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who has studied sand-hole collapses over the years, has long warned that these kind of fatal incidents are much more frequent than people might imagine, according to the news outlet.

In a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine report, Maron documented 52 cases over the last 10 years in the U.S. where people had been buried at the beach because of sand collapses. The victims died in 31 of these incidents, and many more have occurred in the years since.

"One of these events occur and they're so dramatic and unexpected and people are asking themselves, 'How could this have happened?' But it's not a freak accident," Maron said in a 2017 interview with NBC's WRC-TV, after a 30-year-old woman died from a collapsed sand hole on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland.

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Officials advise against digging sand holes.

fine sand on a beach in close up

Sand-hole digging has become a popular pastime at beaches over the years. But because of the risks, officials advise against it.

"We urge visitors not to dig deep holes on the beach due to the danger they present to beachgoers and emergency response staff," Hallac said in his statement following the May 6 incident.

Maron told The Boston Globe that sand-hole collapses are "not isolated events" and occur in a "regular and predictable pattern" each summer in the U.S.

"We know that preventing them requires awareness and not digging," he said. "These are totally preventable events and there's plenty of opportunity to have fun on the beach and in the water, under safe conditions, that don't require digging holes."

There are some precautions you can take to minimize the risk.

Little boys and teenage girl are having fun on beach and playing with sand.

Some people will still feel compelled to dig sand holes at the beach, but anyone doing so should take extra precautions. The Hoag Hospital System in Orange County, California, reminds the public that the more shallow a sand hole is, the safer it is.

"One cubic foot of sand weighs 100 pounds. Please be aware that deep sand holes and tunnels WILL collapse," they warn on their website. "Stay out of deep holes and avoid digging or tunneling for your own safety."

Some beaches even have restrictions against this activity, according to The Boston Globe. Gordon Miller, North District lifeguard supervisor for the Cape Cod National Seashore, told the newspaper that his lifeguards enforce a rule that beachgoers can only dig holes that are as knee-deep as the shortest person in their group.

"We see someone digging and what we do is we go over and speak to that group," Miller said. "If they have, say, a 2-year-old, that's going to be about maybe a foot deep. They can make it as wide as they want, but the depth will only be knee deep as the shortest person in their group."

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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