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Florida sand hole collapse that left girl dead evokes memory of 2013 Indiana Dunes rescue

Girl dies after Florida sand hole collapse; similar incidents have happened near Chicago
Girl dies after Florida sand hole collapse; similar incidents have happened near Chicago 02:09

CHICAGO (CBS) -- After a 7-year-old girl died and her brother was hurt when a sand hole they were digging collapsed on them on a South Florida beach, there was a safety reminder for families visiting the beaches on Lake Michigan this summer.

Sloan Mattingly and her family were visiting Florida from Fort Wayne, Indiana, for vacation. Authorities said on Tuesday afternoon, Sloan and her brother, 9-year-old Maddox, were digging a hole in the beach with some adults on the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida – and the sand was about 5 to 6 feet deep when it collapsed.

Sloan Mattingly died when a sand hole collapsed on a beach in South Florida on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Therese Mattingly, via Facebook

Although rare, similar incidents have happened. Two kids died from died digging from sand holes in 2023 – and in 2013, a then-6-year-old boy survived at the Indiana Dunes after he was trapped under feet of sand.

In the most recent incident in Florida, video shows the moments beachgoers turned into first responders – frantically searching for Sloan and Maddox after they were crushed under the sand while digging a hole on the beach.

"You could see everyone digging," said witness Lee Ann Heinlein. "Every time, more help came. There were more shovels arriving on scene. You could hear them calling for buckets."

Heinlein watched it all unfold just feet away.

"All you can think about is the parents. I mean, and the little boy that was their son," Heinlein told CBS News Miami. "Now they have to go through a whole different kind of learning to live."

Sloan was rushed to a local hospital, but later died.

Her mother, Therese Mattingly, wrote on Facebook: "A freak accident happened yesterday while we are here on vacation and it took away our greatest 7.5 years. Don't tell us you're sorry for our loss…don't do that to us. We experienced the purest human being and we are forever changed by her."

Maddox was also hospitalized, but has since been released.

The incident evoked a Chicago area memory going back a decade – albeit one that did not have such a tragic ending.

On July 12, 2013, Nathan Woessner, just 6 years old at the time, was buried under 11 feet of sand on Mount Baldy, at the at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan City, Indiana.

Nathan Woessner fell into and was buried in a sand hole at the Indiana Dunes in 2013. Woessner Family Photo  

"My mind was going 100 miles an hour," Nathan's mother, Faith Woessner, said weeks later. "I just remember being so scared."

Nathan was trapped under the sand for more than three hours.

Park rangers said as crews were trying to free Nathan, the hole he fell into completely collapsed, burying him under the sand. Thankfully, an air pocket kept him alive for the 3 1/2 hours it took to free him from the sand dune.

Nathan was taken to University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital, and required a breathing tube initially. But his condition soon improved.

The rescue is now known as the Miracle on Mount Baldy.

Nearly 11 years later, Mount Baldy is still closed to the public unless rangers lead the hike. The restoration of native dune grass has helped slow, but not completely stopped, the movement of the dune.

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