Grieving Parents of 7-Year-Old Swallowed by Sinkhole in Sand Speak Out about Hidden Danger

sloan mattingly sinkhole in sand

The parents of Sloan Mattingly, a 7-year-old killed by a sinkhole in the sand, speak out about the hidden danger that took their daughter’s life. By bravely sharing Sloan’s story, they hope to help save other families from suffering such a horrific tragedy.

Therese and Jason Mattingly are living every parent’s worst nightmare after a day at the beach went terribly wrong. And all because of a danger many would never imagine.

The tragedy occurred as 7-year-old Sloan Mattingly and her 9-year-old brother Maddox dug for seashells at the beach while on vacation with their family in Florida. It’s a common childhood beach activity. Yet, even though their parents were right there with them, they couldn’t stop what happened next.

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It happened in an instant and changed this family’s lives forever. A sinkhole in the sand opened up, swallowing both Sloan and Maddox.

“It didn't matter that we were literally right there,” Therese explained. “It was just a hole and then it was nothing. And then it just becomes chaos and horror.”

The sand buried Maddox up to his chest but covered Sloan completely. Therese and Jason Mattingly immediately jumped into action, trying desperately to dig their children free. Bystanders all along the beach raced over to help as well.

But for poor Sloan Mattingly, the damage was already done.

“It was kind of a blur,” her father recalled. “And it's probably maybe my mind protecting myself, but it just happened so fast. In my mind, I had her in my hands, but the weight of the sand was too much.”

Parents Of Sloan Mattingly Speak Out

Though they succeeded in pulling both children out of the sinkhole in the sand, Sloan Mattingly wouldn’t survive.

“Everyone tried their hardest but unfortunately, it didn't work out in our favor,” Jason said.

Maddox came out first. But Sloan spent 15 minutes trapped beneath the sand from the collapsed sinkhole. Unresponsive, emergency crews rushed the 7-year-old girl to the hospital. Sadly, though, she succumbed to her injuries there.

The loss understandably shocked and devasted Therese and Jason. They took caution at the beach, but they never imagined a hidden danger like a sinkhole in the sand.

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“You go to the beach you think of water safety, and this never ever once crossed my mind,” Therese said. “And of course looking now it's like, ‘Of course.' And so that's where it's really frustrating.”

That’s exactly why these grieving parents are sharing their daughter’s horrific story. What happened to Sloan Mattingly is awful and her family wants to stop it from happening to anyone else.

The Dangers Of A Sinkhole In Sand

Playing in the sand is a beloved beach activity for children and adults alike. And while digging holes in the sand may seem harmless, it’s actually quite dangerous.

“When people dig holes more than two feet deep and get in them, at least where their body’s below the sand level, sand starts drying out immediately,” explained expert Dr. Stephen Leatherman. “And dry sand can only hold a 33-degree angle, and people dig these holes almost vertically.”

Wet sand appears sturdier. However, both wet and dry sand collapse easily. And when they do, sand is actually quite heavy. Dry sand already weighs 90 to 110 pounds per cubic foot. Wet sand weighs even more — as much as 130 pounds per cubic foot.

"Sand is horrible because it will flow around to every single part of your body so that you're encased," said Christopher Moir, a pediatric trauma surgeon at Mayo Clinic. "You are entombed, essentially."

Trying To Save Someone From A Sand Hole

Rescuing someone from a collapsed sinkhole in the sand is especially tough. Because sand compacts so tightly, it makes it impossible for a buried person to breathe (unlike getting buried in snow).

“An avalanche occurs, and the snow can be a little blocky and there are gonna be air pockets. There are no air pockets in sand,” explained Dr. Stephen Leatherman.

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Additionally, digging straight down can lead to further collapse and compression of the sand. Instead, rescuers need to pull the sand away from the point of collapse.

Though roughly 20 adults tried to dig Sloan Mattingly out using their hands and plastic pails, the hole just kept collapsing on itself. Deputies arrived just four minutes after the collapse to help with the rescue. But by the time they got to the 7-year-old girl, it was too late.

Experts recommend people avoid digging holes in the sand. And, if you do, they suggest keeping them very shallow.

“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,” Dr. Leatherman said.

WATCH: Expert Shares The Dangers Of Digging In The Sand

Sloan Mattingly Story Serves As A Warning

The family of Sloan Mattingly is now left grieving the loss of such a lovely 7-year-old who they described as a “beam of light [and] joy.”

“She just lived life,” her dad Jason said. “She would come out in the morning and she would fist-bump right out of bed. She'd always be so happy.”

It’s a tragedy they never want to see happen to anyone else. And that’s why, as difficult as it is, they are speaking out and sharing Sloan’s story. They want others to be aware of the danger of collapsing sinkholes in the sand. And they are urging beaches to begin including signs about the dangers of sand holes.

“If we can do anything to save another family from going through this,” Jason said. “Whether that’s signage, beach patrol, and strangers, if you see something that's dangerous, take the courage and say something.”

Prayers For A Family’s Heartache

On the day Sloan Mattingly died, so many people tried to help the family in their time of need. It’s something Therese and Jason deeply appreciate, even though the day ended in tragedy. Though they bear the brunt of the heartache, they know it has impacted others, too.

“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry,” Therese said. “You witnessed pure horror.”

So many prayers for this brave family as they cope with such a horrific tragedy and work so hard to save others from experiencing it.

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“For I am certain that not death, or life, or angels, or rulers, or things present, or things to come, or powers, Or things on high, or things under the earth, or anything which is made, will be able to come between us and the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 38-39

WATCH: Parents Of Sloan Mattingly Warn Others

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h/t: People

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