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Florida sand hole collapse: Parents speak out after daughter, 7, dies on beach

The parents of 7-year-old Sloan Mattingly are speaking out to warn families of the potential dangers of digging deep sand holes after a tragedy last month.

Sloan Mattingly, the 7-year-old Indiana girl who died on a South Florida beach last month after a sand hole caved in on her and her brother, was remembered as a "beam of light" by her parents, who discussed the "chaos and horror" that unfolded on the family vacation during a Thursday interview.

Jason and Therese Mattingly appeared on ABC’s "Good Morning America" to warn families of the potential dangers of digging deep holes in the sand, describing the tragedy as a "blur."

"In my mind, I had her in my hands, but the weight of the sand was too much," Jason said, adding that it all "happened so fast."

"It didn’t matter that we were literally right there," Therese said. "It was just a hole and then there’s nothing. And then it just became chaos and horror."


Sloan was digging a 5- to 6-feet deep hole with her 9-year-old brother, Maddox, in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, while on vacation with their family, when the sand hole suddenly caved in. Sloan was buried alive in the sand while Maddox was covered nearly up to his neck.

Dramatic video posted online showed several beachgoers frantically trying to dig through the sand and reach Sloan. They were trying to hold on to the walls of the hole, so it would not collapse further. The fire department said it used support boards to keep more sand from collapsing in as they used shovels to dig the children out.

The family told the news outlet that it took about 20 minutes to fully dig the children out of the hole.

Sloan was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital, while Maddox survived the ordeal. 


The Mattinglys said they want Sloan to be remembered as a "beam of light, joy" who "just lived life."

"She would come out in the morning and fist pump right out of bed," Jason said. "She'd always be just so happy."

Experts say that deep sand holes are dangerous because if they cave in, the sand becomes compact, trapping anyone caught in the collapse under a tremendous weight that can deprive them of oxygen.

The Mattinglys said that they do not blame anyone for the tragedy, thanking the witnesses who raced to help dig out the children, the first responders and the hospital. Therese also wanted to apologize to those who witnessed what she described as the "pure horror" of that day.

The family now hopes that Sloan’s story can help save other families from similar tragedies.

"If we can do anything to save another family from going through this," Jason told the outlet, "whether that’s signage, beach patrol, and strangers, if you see something that’s dangerous, take the courage and say something."

Fox News’ Michael Dorgan contributed to this report.

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