Girl who died in sand hole at Florida beach is identified; lifeguards could have prevented tragedy, experts say

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A family from Indiana was enjoying a beach day at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Tuesday afternoon when the large hole the two young children were digging in the sand collapsed, burying them alive, officials say.

The children were identified by the Broward Sheriff’s Office Wednesday as 5-year-old Sloan Mattingly and her 9-year-old brother, Maddox. Sloan had no pulse when paramedics managed to extricate her from the sand, and later died in the hospital. Maddox was also buried but survived.

Ocean rescue experts say Sloan’s death might have been prevented if the beach was staffed with lifeguards. 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 knee-height, or about 2 feet; the hole the two were digging that day was between 5 and 6 feet, officials say.

But Lauderdale-by-the-Sea has no lifeguards, according to Pompano Beach spokesperson Sandra King. Pompano Beach provides fire and ocean rescue services to the town, responding to the incident after it was reported.

“This doesn’t happen on guarded beaches,” said Jim McCrady, Vice President and Lifesaving Academies director of the U.S. Lifesaving Association Southeast Region, who also works as a surf rescue chief in Hallandale Beach. “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 hole. We not only tell the person not to dig a deep hole, but to fill it in before they leave.”

Spokespeople for the town did not immediately respond to calls or emails about the lifeguard situation Wednesday, but said that the beach was open and the sand had been leveled.

Sloan and Maddox were playing in the sand in the 4400 block of El Mar Drive about 3 p.m. Tuesday, officials say, a normal time to go to the beach for a family, with plenty of people around. Pompano Beach Fire Rescue responded to find Maddox buried up to his chest in the sand, Sloan completely buried beneath him.

Witness cell phone video showed people trying to dig them out, WTVJ-Ch. 6 reported.

Fire rescue had to dig with shovels and supportive boards to keep more sand from collapsing in as they rescued the girl, King said. She did not immediately know how long the children were buried before they were removed.

BSO did not identify the childrens’ parents or provide an update on Maddox’s condition.