Don't dig large holes in sand, lifeguards warn

NEWPORT BEACH — Lifeguards are warning beach visitors not to dig large holes in the sand after a child was saved after being buried alive on a West Newport beach earlier this month.

The Nov. 12 incident occurred one day after lifeguards had completed the Fire Department's Sand Entrapment Training, according to a city memo.

Lifeguard Capt. Josh van Egmond was on the beach at 43rd Street just after sunset making a final check, officials said.

"[He] drove by a boy approximately 10 years of age hastily pulling sand away from the berm with a smile on his face," the memo states. "The boy stated he was trying to unbury his friend."

Van Egmond took a closer look and saw the tunnel was 8 to 10 feet and about 2 1/2 feet in circumference, built at about a 25-degree downward angle.

"The second boy was halfway into the tunnel covered up to his face," the memo states. "All that could be seen was the back of his head, and he was face down."

Van Egmond called for backup units and began removing sand cautiously, trying to avoid the tunnel collapse, but the sand did collapse around the child. He began digging according to training and found the heel of the boy, then a foot, and was able to remove the child.

"This was a really close call," Lifeguard Battalion Chief Jim Turner said.

"The boys were alone, the beach was empty, and there were no other adults in the area to respond when this collapse occurred," Fire Chief Steve Parker said in a memo. "Captain van Egmond is to be commended for recognizing the dangerous aspect of this incident and reacting quickly as he was trained. His actions assuredly saved this young boy's life."

Fire Department spokeswoman Jennifer Schulz said beach visitors always should be careful to avoid digging large holes, and to help lifeguards keep a lookout for unsafe tunnels and digging.

"Our recommendations would be don't dig large holes or allow your child to put his face below the level of the sand," she said "The sand won't structurally hold, so it will eventually collapse. If a child's airway is below the level of the sand, he will be buried and may suffocate.

"Additionally, lifeguards spend the majority of their time scanning the water, trying to prevent people from drowning. So please help them out if you see someone building a large hole — either tell the person the dangers of digging a deep hole or tell the lifeguard."

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