Trapped teen thanks his rescuers

NEWPORT BEACH — A Virginia teenager stopped by a local fire station Tuesday to thank the public safety personnel who rescued him last week after he became buried under some 7 feet of beach sand.

Matt Mina, 17, of Charlottesville, met with about 15 Newport Beach firefighters and lifeguards at the Lido Station and, as a show of thanks, handed out a batch of almond-crusted cookies.

On Aug. 3, firefighters and lifeguards helped pull Mina out of the sand after a tunnel he was digging near the 54th Street beach caved in and left him buried alive for about 30 minutes.

Mina, who is visiting his aunt in Orange while on summer vacation, echoed warnings issued by firefighters since the accident not to dig sand tunnels or holes at the beach more than waist-deep.

"It's kinda deadly," Mina said.

At the firehouse on Tuesday morning, he described the harrowing experience of being trapped beneath the sand.

When he tried to move, he recalled, the sand compressed around him, creating a straitjacket-like feeling.

"A lot of things, a lot of people" went through his mind before he lost consciousness.

Though since the incident, Mina said he has "enjoyed things more."

Firefighters and lifeguards marveled at the few injuries the teen sustained. He was discharged from Hoag Hospital three hours after being admitted because of soreness.

Emma Alferos, Mina's aunt, and his cousins also met with firefighters, recalling last Wednesday's drama.

"I almost had a heart attack," Alferos said, who drove that day to Hoag from San Dimas.

Alferos said having to call her nephew's mother — her sister — was the "most excruciating thing I had to do."

About 50 firefighters were on the scene after the sand tunnel collapsed, said Division Chief Ralph Restadius.

"I'm very grateful to see Matt standing here today," said Battalion Chief Jeff Boyles. "It all worked out in this case."

The incident hasn't turned Mina off to California, though, but he said he likely won't be digging more holes anytime soon.

"I kind of like California," Mina said. "I went to the beach the next day."

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