Re: The Sand Tunnel Tragedy. A Little Perspective, Please?

Readers — Just wanted to weigh in for a sec. Tragically, a boy died on Tuesday in the sand tunnel he dug. The Yahoo story says, “This is not terribly uncommon. According to CBS News, there were at least 16 beach-hole-related deaths between 1990 and 2010.” It says another source reported 31 deaths in 20 years.

Is about one death per year NOT UNCOMMON? In a country of 300+ million? I’d say that is extremely uncommon. In fact, I’d say the writer was talking out of his/her beach towel.  Turning a tragedy into a scare story stinks. – L.

41 Responses

  1. maybe he meant “not unheard of”?

  2. The comments kill me, asking “where were the parents” and that they are terrible for “letting” it happen. Grrrrrrr.

  3. We had a similar tragedy here in Australia about 2 weeks ago. A 14 year old boy and a 12 year old boy were killed in Ayr when the hole they were digging in a side bank collapsed on them. They couldn’t be pulled from it in time to resuscitate successfully. From what I’ve read so far on the media, noone seems to be placing blame, it’s just a sad outcome.

  4. Totally agree – approximately 1 death per year IS (very) uncommon.

  5. The writer’s spot on- it’s not uncommon at all.


    I’m sure that’s what s/he meant.

  6. As one of the commentors pointed out, digging DEEP holes in the sand (as this one was) can be dangerous. Lifeguards frequently have to stop people from digging holes that are TOO deep. Hopefully people will learn the right lesson from this, and not take things to extremes.

    And for people who were wondering where the parents were. He was 12! Even non-free range parents let their twelve year do things on their own (sometimes). This was a tragedy, and there is some wisdom that can be learned. Don’t dig sand holes that are too deep. And watch out for the undertow. And jellyfish. And let your kids go to the beach.

  7. It is not common. But it is not unheard of, and it IS something that I warned my kids about when we lived near the beach. They were smaller, it was usually other kids digging and or left their hole.

    I feel very sorry for this family. Crap happens sometimes, despite all we do to try to prevent it.

  8. I’ve been following this locally and, as someone who grew up near the Jersey shore, I will say that “don’t dig giant holes on the beach” is one of the first things kids learn about beach safety. Don’t dig deep holes, don’t go in when the red flag is up, if you get caught in the undertow, relax and swim parallel to the shore line. But, that’s common sense taught to kids who grow up near the ocean. Just from my own life experience, most beach-related tragedies happen from uninformed tourists/day trippers who just don’t respect how dangerous the beach and ocean can be. It’s a shame that people will blame the parents or the lifeguards (who were kind busy watching that giant ocean…) for what comes down to a lack of experience. It’s more concerning to me that none of the locals who likely saw this happening took a moment to educate these boys.

  9. Sad, freakish story. People need to remember those words, “freak accident.” Sometimes things happen and there’s nothing anyone could have done differently. I vividly remember trying to dig the deepest hole I could on the beach as a kid…I don’t think I could have ever dug one deep enough to suffocate anyone older than an infant. I wonder if maybe just giving the “right” tools for the job would do it…a small plastic shovel, or one with the type of point that makes it harder to dig deep, rather than telling your kids “you could die if you dig too deep?” I don’t know.

    In my hometown two years ago, a family was driving. A tree fell on the car and killed the teenager in the backseat. Everyone else was fine. If they’d left home five minutes later, if they’d been driving even 1 mph faster, they would have missed the tree altogether. Just a freak thing, and yet some people were actually saying, maybe they shouldn’t have trees near the road anymore.

  10. Lyndsay, exactly what you said. (My kids were reminded of exactly those things, several times a summer.) I was thinking that they were probably from non-ocean area too. Not everyone is an engineer or builder and knows that when you dig a deep hole you need struts to keep it from collapsing. LOCALS should have said something, and or notified the lifeguard who apparently does tell people to stop digging.

    This is kind of like shark attacks. They do happen. But rarely. And, as I tell my friend who still lives by the ocean and is afraid to swim because of the sharks, improve your odds. Don’t be the farthest person from shore. THAT is who the shark is going to get.

  11. Lenore I thought the same thing when I read this on Yahoo. 16 in 22 years is far from common. I am always having these life must be totally safe conversations. Ice adults can’t deal with the fact that tragedies happen and life goes on what are we teaching our children?

  12. “a fire truck responding to the tunnel collapse struck a man holding his infant son, ‘knocking them both to the ground.'”

    Clearly fire trucks are a hazard to life and limb, and are not uncommon. Nearly 100 injury-causing accidents have happened since 2000, and there are calls to end the dangerous vehicles’ permission to drive however they please.


    Seriously, though, I bet injuries from emergency vehicles colliding with innocent bystanders cause WAY more injuries/deaths than sand-hole collapses every year. Why you no hate on them?

  13. I found this page when looking for pedestrians hurt by fire trucks: Pedestrians do not seem so common, accidents involving other vehicles yes. No idea of the time frame on these reports.

  14. The most dangerous part of any trip to the beach is the drive.

  15. There seems to have been (when exactly I don’t know) the death of a concept of ‘fate’ or ‘chance’, in favour of the monstrous birth of ‘risk’ that can/should be managed at all times. We want to ‘manage’ nature, in all its forms, which points out to me how removed we are from it. You don’t have to be religious to acknowledge that the natural world is incredibly complex and basically unmanageable — or that we are not in fact apart from it, or not somehow subject to its laws. Our basic mortality is a fact, and it should be humbling, but instead it leads us toward hubris. Trying to be gods, we have become homunculi — tiny, rough approximations of what it means to be human.

  16. @Library Diva: I hear you. Sometimes things just happen. It’s not anybody’s fault. Sometimes kids get cancer. It’s not a punishment. It’s not fair, either. Sometimes it makes no rational sense whatever: recently, near here, someone hit a black bear on the highway, sending it airborne and right into the windscreen of a car coming the other way, killing the driver. Sometimes you’re killed by a flying bear. I mean, what lesson are we supposed to take from that? The fact that something happens is not in and of itself always significant. When it comes to risk, the only reasonable question is, “HOW likely?” And then, the subsequent question, “Will avoiding this risk expose me to something worse?”

  17. For example: Guy is swimming and sees a storm. Knowing the risk of being in a lake when lightning hits, he gets out, placing him under a tree, where he is struck by lightning.

  18. Human beings seem to have lost the ability to accept that life is a terminal condition. Many commenters on the original article said something along the lines of “even one death is too many.” But the fact is that we are ALL going to die one day or another and in one way or another. Nobody actually beats the odds and lives forever.

    Yes, it is horribly sad when someone dies young. It doesn’t matter how that happens. A sand tunnel cave in is no more or less tragic than a car accident or cancer. But that is life. I’m not being insensitive – I can’t imagine the pain of these parents – but nobody born is guaranteed 100 years of life before they quietly pass away in their sleep and we need to accept that fact.

  19. @Josh though I wonder how many innocent bystanders hurt by services are gawkers.


  20. For example: Guy is swimming and sees a storm. Knowing the risk of being in a lake when lightning hits, he gets out, placing him under a tree, where he is struck by lightning.

    Well, while that’s unfortunate, I feel I need to point out that sheltering under a tree in a thunderstorm is considered a bad idea by… the people… who, um, give out advice on what to do… in a thunderstorm. (Okay, I’m not sure who worked that out originally, but I’ve definitely seen the advice to avoid trees in official communication on the subject, which I’ve looked up. I’m reasonably cautious about lightning. 700 or so people in this country are struck by lightning yearly, and I fully intend never to be one of them. Rather be bitten by a snake or something.)

  21. Incidentally, what you’re SUPPOSED to do is find some sort of enclosed shelter, and stay there until half an hour after the last time you saw lightning or heard thunder. If you can’t get to shelter, you’re supposed to avoid water, high ground, open spaces, and any place that might attract lightning… like, say, under a tall tree or by a metal fence.

    700 yearly isn’t all that much, though more people WOULD be struck by lightning yearly if most of us didn’t want to get inside anyway to avoid the rain. Well, we all have our little issues. Mine is a totally rational fear of lightning.

  22. What’s even weirder than “not uncommon” is that they still have “common tragedy” on the lead before you click through. “Not uncommon” is one thing, but “common” is really a stretch.

  23. We had a hellacious thunderstorm around here a couple of days ago. My kids and I were on the commuter rail and lightning hit a pole literally right next to the tracks. We got out of the train into an absolute downpour for our 10 minute walk home, and there really isn’t a shelter at the station. We started walking home, but before we got out of the parking lot, a female stranger stopped her car and offered us a ride. So I got to do two horribly dangerous things – be out in a thunderstorm and (gasp) ride in the car with a total stranger. The total stranger turned out to be a mom as well, and felt that she couldn’t leave a fellow mom and two young kids to walk in a lighting storm. So Debra from Medfield – thank you for rescuing us!

  24. “You don’t have to be religious to acknowledge that the natural world is incredibly complex and basically unmanageable — or that we are not in fact apart from it, or not somehow subject to its laws.”

    The proverbial lightning striking and taking a young life, tragically at the beach, will never go away. Of course, you can NOT take your kid to the beach, but they could trip down the stairs ad fall badly and still die. I’d rather take them to the beach.

    I have a confession. We have a family of beach diggers. They love the beach excavating for sand crabs, shells, and to make drippy castles on the edges. The kids dig tidal pools (shallow and wide) which we parents call the pee pools. They love watching the tide come in, trying to build a wall to protect their hole, always defeated by the ocean.
    When I first saw this story, I went to the comment section, expecting the usual “Where was his mother?” backlash but instead saw the conversation turn to laws against digging at the beach. Pretty soon there will be laws against sunbathing at the beach because it may lead to melanoma and death.

  25. Sad news out of Colorado this morning about the shooter at the movie theater. I guess that’s one more thing we can’t do anymore – go to the movies. A shooter will now become a “common threat” because it *could* happen.

  26. Where I grew up people would have huge loads of sand delivered to be spread in their yards. We kids would play for hours in the giant sand piles. My parents warned us about the dangers of tunneling into the sand. We also knew not to dig deep holes at the beach. They trusted us to be sensible. I would guess accidents from digging deep holes in sand are uncommon because people don’t do it that often. It is a dangerous thing to do.

  27. dmd: metal detectors at the movies theatres within one year, I can see it now…

  28. I turned off the news this morning. My oldest hears stuff and thinks it will apply to her. This is so random. So I was reading online…and they have a stupid video that automatically comes on and won’t turn off.

    Selby, unless they put the metal detectors by the emergency exits, they won’t help at all. But yes, I see some form of legislation or rule making, even at corporate level. Maybe no more midnight movies?

    And to Drudge Report, that listed an “article” with the title “What was a 6 year old doing at movies at midnight?” Watching a movie! Yes, that does happen, especially if the parents do shift work and have the kid on their schedule during the summer! Youngsters watching midnight movies is MUCH more common than people coming in spraying tear gas and shooting people down.

  29. This Yahoo piece demonstrates exactly why editorial review is still needed in this age of internet “journalism.” Paragraph 5 begins “Sadly, deaths from sand tunnel collapses are not terribly uncommon. ” It then goes on to describe in detail how fantastically uncommon they actually are. An editor would likely have caught this bizarrely humorous inclusion in an otherwise sad story.

  30. I agree with those who suspect that the family involved may not be from near the ocean.

    As a kid growing up on the coast (and now raising a daughter on the coast) one of the first things you learn is water safety and beach safety. These are essential skills to staying safe on the shore. You don’t go in too deep. You have to be aware of what the sea is doing. You don’t dig big holes and tunnels. If you are digging in the sand you have to be aware of what is on top of the sand and could fall on you. You watch where you walk so you don’t step on urchins or crabs. You have to be AWARE! And as a child learns to be aware and safe then they get more freedom. But that knowledge is essential to staying safe.

    Such a sad story.

  31. Up here in Canada, our experience is more with snow tunnels (I never heard of kids tunneling in sand before). We all got the warnings (I vaguely remember them) about not tunneling too deep, but we did it anyway. A tunnel actually did collapse on me once, and I was dug out right away by friends and my mum, who was not happy about the process. It was totally worth it: I had hours of fun and imagination in my snow forts, built in the mountains of snow the ploughs would deposit in the front yard. We even used to bury each other for fun; I remember being late for class a bunch of times when my friends would run off and leave me to dig myself out. Come to think of it, I don’t see many of those kinds of tunnels in snowbanks these days. I don’t see kids outside much at all, actually, in winter or in summer. This makes me sad.

  32. I already don’t go to theaters. The ones around here genuinely *are* all infested with bedbugs. I check reviews of the individual theater before I go, and generally the top two will mention bedbugs in the theater. No, thank you.

  33. I agree that there’s a big difference between “not uncommon” and “not unheard of” or “foreseeable.” Yup, I’d venture it’s foreseeable that if you dig a deep tunnel into material that is friable, you might end up getting suffocated by that material. But that’s not how the typical 12-year-old mind works, or even 17-year-old mind, if someone hasn’t just planted the chant in there, “Don’t dig deep holes. Don’t dig deep holes.”

    We rely, as humans, on wisdom being passed down from one generation to the next. What we’ve got right now are kids who spend such an enormous amount of media time with their ipods and watching TV… and gaming and chatting with their peers… that they’re not really getting any information about life from adults… so they basically are flying blind when real life confronts them. They are looking sideways, at their peers, for information, instead of looking up at adults.

    Regardless, that chant about digging holes would be one you probably wouldn’t hear unless you lived near a beach, so no matter how many hours you log with your earbuds in, you’re going to be flying blind on that one unless a bystander corrects you. Perhaps one attempted to do so, and said, “Hey kid, don’t dig deep holes,” and perhaps the kid shrugged it off, figuring it was some weirdo who didn’t know anything… again, kids in our culture are often fairly loath to listen to anything adults have to say. Sad, really.

  34. I live inland and don’t visit the beach that much. I am grateful for the advice of those here who know enough to inform me that digging deep sand tunnels is dangerous.

    If we and our kids can’t get out into the world enough to learn about realistic dangers and how to prevent/avoid them, how are we supposed to be safe? Experience and -gasp- talking to OTHER PEOPLE who have had the experience is really what leads to safety. If we lock ourselves away, the moment we step out and do something might be a moment of doing something incredibly stupid and dangerous which we would have realized as such if we hadn’t been locked in an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal box.

  35. Uly, ewww!

  36. In The Trenches, my parents told us we couldn’t dig in the banks by the road from the snow plow. Apparently, so uncommon thing happened….the kids were in the bank when the plow came by and plowed them in. But that snow also tends to be much heavier, and harder to dig anyhow. We did all of our digging where the drifts were more naturally made. Usually after a few days they would sag down far enough we needed to dig more out. It mostly was lighter snow though, and if it collapsed there was no harm. I wish I lived where there was enough snow so that my kids could have that much fun. We barely have enough snow to sled…and I have to tell the kids to avoid the irrigation posts on their way down.

  37. Indeed. And those things are a real pain in the butt to kill off once you infest your home or place of business with them.

  38. @In the Trenches- Come over to my place to see kids digging tunnels in the snow. Last year we had very little snow so it was a terrible year for building a quinzhee or snow fort (and my son’s snow shovelling business). Once the structure is made we have a few rules for safety: You can’t be playing in the fort alone in case it does cave in. No one can climb the exterior of the fort while a person is in it. Can’t play in the fort when the weather is warming up. And no forts near the road (the concern is a kid in a snow fort while the snow plough comes by and gets either crushed by the snow plough or hit by it- I was more concerned about kids climbing the snow fort and slipping onto the road with passing cars). We tried to keep the rules obvious- the kids added the climbing exterior rule when a neighbour’s large dog climbed the fort while they were in it- and the kids have learned from the experienced about how snow forts can have a danger (but fun!) element because it has unstable materials. No one has been unintentionally trapped or hurt and the kids have had a lot of fun and actually learned something! My son wants to design buildings when he grows up and between Lego, the offcuts of wood from various home improvement projects, snow in the winter, sand in the summer and whatever he can find in the woods, he has learned a lot about structures and stability. More kids need to spend time building things with the materials they find.

  39. I first read about this kind of accident a few years ago. And, while it’s very uncommon, IMO it’s not so unheard of as to be dismissible. In the article I read, a preschooler fell into a hole dug by some older kids. The sides of the hole collapsed in on him and he simply disappeared. Fortunately his mother realized that he hadn’t just wandered off and was able to dig him out safely, which IMO was kind of a miracle. Not long after I read the article, a boy died in a sand tunnel he was digging at the beach near where I live in northern California. I’d lived in California (although not in a beach town) for over 20 years when this happened, and I’d NEVER heard a caution that there was any possible danger in digging deep holes on the beach.

    So now I know — if your kids want to dig holes at the beach (which is pretty much what every kid wants to do at the beach), tell them not to dig super deep and to fill the hole in when they’re done. Accidents can still happen, but this is the kind of thing where I think a little awareness is very useful.

  40. One of the most beloved memories I had of summer was when my family was on vacation on the beach and I made an instant friendship with two kids in who were sitting one umbrella over so we dug a huge 4 foot hole, complete with hand holds for climbing and got very popular with other kids on the beach who wanted to climb into the hole.

  41. A couple of weeks ago, here in Austria, the news were full of a story of a ten-year-old Austrian boy who died in a similar accident at a German beach… and in all that time, I haven’t heard/seen a single person ask, “where were the parents?” Everyone agreed it was tragic, but nobody questioned his right to be out playing on the beach by himself. No parent-blaming in any of the articles I read, either.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: