We raced to the hole in the sand to see a partially buried figure. Grabbing plastic buckets, we all dug like crazy as others sprinted to pull backboards off the trucks.

Every time we’d scoop sand out, more would fall in. We barely held it back, even when the boards were placed strategically around the edges of the hole. Once they were in place, we started making very slow progress as the clock ticked.

We needed to work fast and relieve the pressure on the lungs in order to make a rescue.

Sand entrapment is a very serious thing. One cubic foot of sand weighs 100 pounds and sand can act almost like an anaconda. As the victim exhales, the sand moves in and prevents the lungs from filling completely. Each successive breath is more limited. For that reason, rescue involves an explosion of energy using tools that won’t hurt the person.

You have to get the pressure off the person as quickly as possible, and its really difficult because sand is, well, sand. It can flow like water and fill any empty space.

Fortunately, this particular example was a scenario we went through when we took a seminar on sand entrapment that was put on by the United States Lifesaving Association a few years back in South Padre Island. We did save the dummy, or at least were able to get it out of the hole.

But it was a real lesson on how fast it can happen and how quickly a group of people must react to be effective.

Entrapment on beaches and dunes can happen when the person digs too deep and the walls collapse, or when they try to tunnel into the side of a dune. For this reason, there are a few safety tips that can make all the difference.

First, don’t dig deeper than the knees of the shortest person in your group. That way, if the walls collapse, only your feet will get stuck. Second, don’t put your head below the level of the sand. And finally, don’t tunnel into the side of dunes or berms, because they can collapse easily.

Aside from the obvious, there are a few other reasons not to dig deep holes and to cover up the holes you do dig before leaving the beach. People can trip or even sustain significant injuries, particularly after dark. Our hard-working Coastal Zone Management crews work well before daybreak and holes can cause damage to vehicles or workers.

And all the public safety groups respond throughout the night on the sand to emergencies.

Remember, we’re sharing the beach with wildlife. Turtle nesting season runs roughly April to September along the Texas coast. If a turtle encounters even a shallow hole on the beach, it can get turn around or even worse, flip over. Once flipped, it’s extremely hard for turtles to right themselves, and in the Texas heat, they’ll likely die of heat exposure.

So be careful both in the water and on the sand.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.


(2) comments

Curtiss Brown

Peter, your columns should run in newspapers throughout Texas.

George Croix

Thank you, Peter. I hope people pay attention, especially with letting little ones play at hole digging.

One can also meet their end quickly just crossing a seemingly benign ditch with a few inches of water in it. In 1971, I and another worker were working with a road crew at High Island, assigned to jack hammer away a concrete abutment on a large culvert so it could be lengthened. When my partner stepped into the ditch, he immediately started sinking...could not get loose, and I could not pull him out, as it was up to his chest by then....if not for that jack hammer air hose, quickly put under his arms, and me in pretty good shape back then to hang onto it for what seemed forever till the rest of the men came to help, he'd be gone.....

Scared me spitless, and I've never waded into water since then without probing ahead...

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