7-year-old girl dies playing in sand on Florida beach: How to keep children safe

A 7-year-old girl died Tuesday after a deep hole she was digging with her brother collapsed on them both at a South Florida beach.

Sloan Mattingly was on vacation at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea's beach with her family when she and 9-year-old brother, Maddox, dug a 4-to-5-foot-deep hole. After the hole filled in, her brother was trapped up to his chest, but she was fully buried.

Emergency officials in Broward County received a call shortly after 3 p.m. about the siblings trapped in the sand. Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue and Pompano Beach Fire Rescue also reported to the scene. Cell phone footage obtained by WTVJ-Ch. 6 of the moments after the hole collapsed show at least 10 bystanders rushing to the scene to try to dig the children out.

Both children were taken to hospitals for treatment, according to BSO. Later that day, Sloan was pronounced dead.

According to NPR reports, previous medical studies shows that about three to five children die in the United States each year when a sand hole they are digging at the beach, a park or at home collapses on top of them. Other children are seriously injured and require CPR.

As the summer season approaches, many families are planning their trips to Florida's coasts. Here's how to make sure your kids have safe beach trip.

Look at forecast, wave conditions before you go

Dean McCallum surfs the waves on a stand up paddle board on the Gulf of Mexico on Bonita Beach as light rain falls on Friday, June 3, 2022.  A possible tropical depression/storm is heading towards Southwest Florida.
Dean McCallum surfs the waves on a stand up paddle board on the Gulf of Mexico on Bonita Beach as light rain falls on Friday, June 3, 2022. A possible tropical depression/storm is heading towards Southwest Florida.

Beach safety begins before you even set foot on the sand.

Before you head out, check ahead to see what the weather is going to look like for the rest of the day. If there's a chance of rain towards the afternoon, you can pack an umbrella. If the heat looks extra unbearable, you can load up on water bottles for hydration.

Regardless of rain or shine, you should also consider wave conditions. The height of a wave is affected by wind speed, wind duration, and fetch, which is the distance over water that the wind blows in a single direction.

The most detailed, current information is available at the National Weather Service.

Know how dangerous rip currents work — and how to avoid them

A rip tide is a specific type of current associated with the swift movement of tidal water through inlets and the mouths of rivers and harbors.

Rip currents occur in bodies of water with breaking waves; they are channels of water that flow at a faster pace than the surrounding area. USA Today notes swimmers who are caught in rip currents can get sucked away at speeds of up to 8 feet per second, far too fast for many swimmers to make it safely back to shore.

The National Weather Service and beach websites post warnings about high chances of rip currents, so swimmers almost always have ample warning that rip currents are possible or are occurring.

But you should still talk with your littles about what to do if they are caught up by one, stressing that they should not panic. Falk Feddersen, professor of physical oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, told USA Today he recommended simply bobbing with the water until you make it back to shore or you are away from the active parts of the rip current.

"Once you’re away from the active current, you can swim back to shore," he said.

He also stressed to not become a victim by trying to save someone. If you see someone caught in a rip current, get help from a lifeguard, if available. Call 911 for further assistance.

Pack your beach bag with the essentials

Shot of a young woman applying sunscreen to her friend's back on the beach.
Shot of a young woman applying sunscreen to her friend's back on the beach.

While you might know to include the toys or the beach chairs, you might overlook some crucial safety items. Here's what your beach items kit should include:

  • Plenty of suncreen, especially for reapplying

  • Sunglasses or a hat for further protection

  • A cooler with lots of water bottles and snacks

  • A first-aid kit incase of scraps or injuries

  • Jackets or cover-ups, incase of rain or drops in temperature

What to know about digging in beach sand

So now you're finally at the beach; however, the safety doesn't stop. Once you find a spot and set your stuff down, communicate any rules or expectations with your kiddos.

If you're at a beach with no lifeguards on duty or they are far away from your spot, make a plan to have someone always watching who is in the water. Or make sure an adult is always in the water with a child who cannot swim.

USA TODAY reports also noted to make sure everyone in your party is very honest with themselves about what they can handle. The water can get overwhelming very quickly; do not chase a beach ball or try to keep up with those who have stronger swimming abilities.

Encourage your children to not dig holes at the beach and if they do, make sure they do not get too big. Stephen Leatherman, Florida International University's Department of Earth and Environment, told media outlets that parents should monitor the size of any holes kids are digging and to stop them if they start to get deep.

"… You shouldn't be digging holes," he said to NBC Miami. "If you dig holes — no deeper than two feet, and cover them up when you leave. Keep it shallow and you don't have a problem of collapse."

Stay Aware of Your Surroundings

January 1, 2024 : The Bollinger family from Orlando come to the pier every New YearÕs Day to start their new year. The beach near the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier has become a destination for people to watch the first sunrise of the new year. Young and old, people sit on the beach, stand near the water or walk along the shore taking photos, selfies, or just sit quietly and watch the new year begin.

You're at the beach, you've laid down the ground rules and now everyone can start enjoying their beach day.

While you can start to relax yourself, make sure to keep track of everyone in your party throughout the day. Also note any changes in weather or the tide that could impact your day.

Contributing reporting: Kinsey Crowley, USA TODAY


This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Florida beach safety for children: What to know after digging tragedy