Home » Tragic Florida sand hole death could have been prevented: expert

Tragic Florida sand hole death could have been prevented: expert

by John Jefferson
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A young Indiana girl who tragically died on a South Florida beach Tuesday when a large sand hole collapsed on her has been named, and an expert has weighed in on the incident, saying that it could have been averted had there been lifeguards on duty.

The victim, identified as 7-year-old Sloan Mattingly by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, was digging a 5 to 6 feet deep hole with her 9-year-old brother Maddox in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, when the sand suddenly caved in on them.

Sloan was buried alive in the sand while Maddox was covered up to his neck, according to an eyewitness. 


Dramatic video posted online shows several beachgoers frantically trying to dig through the sand and reach Sloan. They were trying to hold on to the walls of the hole, so it would not collapse further. The fire department said it used support boards to keep more sand from collapsing in as they used shovels to dig the children out.

Sloan was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital, while the boy was in stable condition. 

The girl’s mother, Therese, said via a GoFundMe post that her daughter died in a freak accident while on vacation.

“It took away our greatest 7.5 years. Don’t tell us you’re sorry for our loss…don’t do that to us. We experienced the purest human being and we are forever changed by her,” Therese wrote.

“We love you beyond any stretch of the imagination. Our sweet Sloan. What we would give.”

One expert says that the tragedy could have been averted if the beach was staffed with lifeguards who are trained to warn people of potential hazards.

Cones surround a sand hole where a girl died

“This doesn’t happen on guarded beaches,” Jim McCrady, a surf rescue chief in Hallandale Beach told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. McCrady is also vice president and Lifesaving Academies director for the U.S. Lifesaving Association Southeast Region.

“We do that all day long. We spot hazards, and then we mitigate the dangers involved in those hazards. This is a daily thing that happens on a guarded beach, when someone starts to dig a hole. We not only tell the person not to dig a deep hole, but to fill it in before they leave.”


In other nearby coastal towns, lifeguards are instructed to tell beachgoers about the risks of digging in the sand and to stop people from digging any deeper than about 2 feet, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a town in Broward County about 33 miles north of Miami, does not currently staff any of its beaches with lifeguards, the publication reports.

Pompano Beach Fire Rescue provides fire and ocean rescue services to the town and responded to Tuesday’s incident.

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Mayor Chris Vincent said that the town commission had been considering hiring lifeguard services for its beaches this year.

A picture of a polaroid image of Sloan Mattingly, 7. She died when a sand hole collapsed on her in Florida on Tuesday.

“It’s unfortunate, maybe, we didn’t have it now,” he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I’m not sure that would’ve saved the child’s life. I don’t want to hypothesize whether lifeguards at that time, there would’ve been a chance; I don’t know that, I don’t think anybody knows that.”

Henri Jean, a geological engineer, explained to Fox 13 Tampa Bay why the depth of the hole was so dangerous.

“For every foot you go down into the ground, you put 110 pounds per square foot of depth, so at five feet deep the amount of soil that would be on top of you would be about 550 pounds per square feet,” Jean said. 

“The combination of the weight and the lack of oxygen would result in a very bad situation for anybody down there.”

He said for the hole the siblings were digging to be deemed safe, it would have to be laid back with a “safe slope” 10 to 20 feet across at the top.

Jean said that without a safe width at the top, a deep hole can quickly become very vertical and therefore, very dangerous. It is not clear how long Sloan was trapped beneath the sand. 

Sand Collapse


“The first thing that you can probably take from this is to never dig anything deep enough to get your head in it,” Jean said. 

In 2022, 18-year-old Levi Caverly died when a 10-foot hole he dug with his sister on a New Jersey beach collapsed.

Meanwhile, McCrady also told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that it is possible to die even if one’s head is exposed, as the weight of the sand can make it too difficult for a person’s lungs to expand. 

Additionally, the sand can pin one’s arms to their sides, making it impossible for them to pull themselves out.

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