OCEAN CITY – A normal day on the beach in Ocean City quickly became what Captain Butch Arbin called a “pretty miraculous event” as two of his lifeguards successfully resuscitated an 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy who was deemed clinically dead for almost three minutes.
Deputy Chief Chuck Barton of the Ocean City Fire Department praised the beach patrol’s efforts in saving the boy, who was trapped under a mound of sand, exposing only his legs, which had collapsed on him while he dug a hole in hopes of connecting two makeshift tunnels on the beach at 37th Street.
“Clearly, the beach patrol did a fantastic job, as they always do, and in this case, they are largely responsible for this boy being alive today,” said Barton.
Rescue officials from the fire department and the beach patrol confirmed that the boy, who was not named due to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton, was not breathing and had no vital signs by the time the beach patrol first reached the scene at approximately 12:51 p.m. on Tuesday.
“We know for a fact that the boy was clinically dead as he had no pulse, no breathing and his heart was stopped,” said Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin. “The two guards that got to the scene first did an excellent job in controlling the crowd and starting the CPR which in the end saved the boy’s life.”
Barton said that by the time first responders reached the scene mere minutes after the emergency call to 911, the boy was “revived by the beach patrol’s CPR efforts” and was transported by ground to Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin. Reports later found that the boy was flown from AGH to A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington where he was treated and released on Wednesday. Arbin said the boy was planning on resuming his vacation in Ocean City.
Lifeguards Sean Jupitz, 19, and Aaron Steely, 23, handled the “chaotic” scene on the midtown beach for several minutes until backup arrived, according to Arbin.
“There was a period of time when they were the only responders on the scene,” said Arbin. “In the instance of a sand collapse, it is almost more critical to control the area than in a water rescue because every person that tries to help ends up knocking more sand into the hole that you are trying to dig out to get to the victim.”
Arbin said the AED defibrillator ruled the boy to be clinically dead for almost three minutes, but noted that the boy may have been trapped under the sand for an additional three minutes before anyone realized what was happening.
“The boy told me that he remembered kicking his legs to let people know that he was in trouble, and he said that before he passed out he remembers people pulling on his legs, but it took people awhile to realize that it was a real situation and not just a kid being silly on the beach, and then, of course, panic set in,” Arbin said.
Arbin said the boy, who was on vacation in Ocean City with his mother, his twin brother, his aunt and cousin, awoke in the ambulance and merely starting complaining of “sand in his eyes.”
Arbin has been in contact with both the boy and his mother since Tuesday’s incident and said the boy was eager to get back to Ocean City and “swim to the deep part of the ocean”, a request that the boy’s mother quickly denied.
“She said she never would have thought that a hole could have collapsed and caused her to almost lose her little boy,” said Arbin, “so she told him no swimming in the deep parts and no more digging holes in the sand.”
Not surprisingly, the incident sparked a reiteration of the beach patrol’s continued efforts at trying to educate beach-goers on the dangers of sand-hole collapses, which have claimed more lives in the past 19 years (16 deaths from sand-holes) than shark attacks (12) in the United States.
Arbin wrote in The Dispatch in his July 3 segment of “A Lifeguard’s Beach Safety Tips” that sand hole collapses are rarely the highest of concerns for beachgoers.
“Parents are often concerned about lesser dangers such as sea life in the ocean but are often unaware of the possibility of a potentially deadly situation on dry land when digging a hole in the sand,” said Arbin. “The basic problem is that the sand is both heavy and unstable and when a collapse occurs, rescue attempts are hindered because as sand is being removed to free the victim the hole will continue to collapse, making a successful rescue very difficult.”
According to Arbin, only one person has perished from a sand-hole collapse in the last 16 years in Ocean City, noting that it happened after the lifeguards were off duty. However, Arbin said that there have been several close calls, of which, Tuesday’s incident will undoubtedly be added.
Arbin urged beachgoers to never dig a hole deeper than the knee of the smallest child in the group, noting that what has started in the past as a family digging a hole for a photo opportunity with the kids, can turn into a very scary situation.
“A few years ago, a 3-year-old was trapped in a sand-hole, and it filled up so fast, that you couldn’t even tell where the hole was originally,” said Arbin. “Luckily, we got her out and resuscitated her as well.”
However, Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore, who says he’s still haunted by the fact that he was one of the firefighters on the scene in the lone Ocean City sand hole fatality 16 years ago, emphasized that he was just happy that this story had a happy ending.
“Those guys at the beach patrol are very reluctant to take any praise when things like this happen, as they say they save lives everyday and it’s their job to do so, but I would like to see the names of all of the people that were on that beach on Tuesday so I can thank them personally, and our community can thank them, because they truly saved a young boy’s life,” he said.