A five-year-old girl died after the sand hole she was digging collapsed on top of her – and the moment frantic passers-by tried to rescue her was caught on camera.
A seven-year-old boy was also trapped in the hole on the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, when he collapsed, but survived.
Witnesses said the children were digging the hole and playing in it when the ground gave way. Footage taken with a mobile phone shows the moment when a crowd of desperate bathers began trying to get them out before firefighters arrived.
They were both rushed to the hospital, but the girl was pronounced dead on arrival. Their identities have not yet been revealed and it is not known if they are related.
Pompano Beach Fire spokeswoman Sandra King said the hole was five to six feet deep when it collapsed, leaving the boy buried up to his chest and the girl completely buried beneath him.
Frantic passersby knelt and dug with their hands in a desperate attempt to reach the girl.
A crowd gathered to help try to get the children out until authorities arrived.
King told the Florida Solar Sentinel that he did not know how long they were buried but that when they dug the girl up, she had no pulse.
She said: “We were carrying out life-saving techniques to try to get her pulse back but she never recovered and was pronounced dead in hospital.”
She was rushed to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, where she was pronounced dead.
The boy’s parents loaded him into a sheriff’s car and also took him to the hospital, where he remains in stable condition.
It was not immediately clear if any adults were helping the children dig the hole or playing with them.
King said he doesn’t know if the family is local or visiting. He said the Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
Broward sheriff’s deputies and paramedics rushed to the beach at 3:16 p.m. Tuesday to the 4400 block of El Mar Drive.
After the collapse, a crowd of people could be seen standing around the huge well.
Images taken with mobile phones minutes after the collapse showed people on their knees digging with their hands in the sand.
Some tried to hold the walls to prevent more sand from falling on the children.
Aerial shots showed how wide the hole was after it collapsed Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities cordoned off the hole while the children were rushed to the hospital.
Others used shovels and beach toys to remove sand from the hole.
When authorities arrived, they cordoned off the beach, leaving the giant hole still half-filled with buckets and shovels discarded by children.
Although deaths from sand holes are very rare, they are not unheard of and studies and warnings have been published about them.
Last week in Jersey Shore Beach, a little boy was trapped after a plaything he was playing on collapsed and buried him. After the initial panic, the boy’s father was able to save him.
Last May, a 17-year-old boy died in the small resort town of Frisco, on Virginia’s Outer Banks, after becoming a trapped in a hole that was dug in a dune area behind the main beach dune along the Atlantic Ocean.
The teenager was buried under several feet of sand after an adjacent dune apparently collapsed into the hole.
After his death, an Outer Banks vacation home and property management company Seaside Vacations wrote a blog after a fatal sand collapse in the area about the dangers of digging holes on the beach.
They said: ‘Sand is, by nature, structurally unstable. Beach erosion, storms and sand mining can weaken the area, which could cause problems even after the hole has been refilled.’
They recommended never digging deeper than knee height, especially in an area with dunes.
One girl was pronounced dead on arrival, but the boy survived and is in stable condition.
Discarded buckets and toys can be seen after the desperate rescue attempt.
Deaths from sand holes are rare, but there have been a few in recent years.
In 2022, 18-year-old Levi Caverly died after he and his 17-year-old sister were trapped when sand collapsed on them inside a deep hole they were digging on Toms River Beach.
Levi died in the collapse while his sister was rescued alive.
In 2012, another teenager died after becoming trapped under a collapsed sand dune in Snow Canyon State Park, about 50 miles northwest of where Levi died.
Also in 2022, a 35-year-old man was found dead with his feet sticking out of the sand along the Treasure Coast, where he had rested on some sand before it collapsed on top of him.
There were 52 fatal and non-fatal sand hole incidents between 1997 and 2007, according to a 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study said it was a rare and under-recognized hazard.
It said: “Victims were usually completely submerged in the sand when the walls of the hole unexpectedly collapsed, leaving virtually no evidence of the hole or the victim’s location.
“The collapse was inadvertently caused by a variety of circumstances, including digging, tunneling, jumping or falling into the hole.”