June 20, 2007 -- Digging sand holes may sound like innocent fun at the beach, but it can be risky and even deadly, according to a new report.
In the past decade, there have been reports of 31 fatalities and 21 nonfatal cases of people submerged in sand when the sand holes they were digging for fun collapsed in on them.
Those cases are noted in The New England Journal of Medicine by Bradley Maron, MD, and colleagues. Maron works at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Maron's team reports that the victims of collapsed sand holes were 3 to 21 years old (average age: 12). Most cases occurred at public beaches, near the shoreline.
The holes were dug from dry sand by victims, friends, or relatives. The sand holes were generally 2 feet to 15 feet in diameter and 2 feet to 12 feet deep, note Maron and colleagues.
"Typically, victims become completely submerged in the sand when the walls of the hole unexpectedly collapsed, leaving virtually no evidence of the hole or the location of the victim," write the researchers.
"Collapses were inadvertently triggered by a variety of circumstances, including digging, tunneling, jumping, or falling into the hole," they write.
Many of the people who were rescued from sand holes required CPR from bystanders, note Maron and colleagues.
They write that being trapped in a collapsed sand hole "is uncommon," but such cases "probably are more common than this report suggests."
In a previous interview with WebMD, Maron said that in 1997, he saw rescuers save the life of an 8-year-old girl who was trapped in a sand hole at Martha's Vineyard.
Maron's team has written about the sand hole hazard in the past and continues to highlight the issue in the hopes of saving lives, especially as people head to the beach on summer vacation.