Thanks to the quick response of Hermosa Beach resident Mark McDonald, and about 20 other beachgoers, an unconscious 11-year-old boy was rescued from a sand tunnel that had collapsed on him in Manhattan Beach this weekend.
Perris resident Evan Navarro, who was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, has since been released and is reportedly "doing well," according to Dave Shenbaum, battalion chief with the Manhattan Beach Fire Department.
At about 6:50 p.m. Sunday, McDonald, 44, was tossing a football around with his 7-year-old son Jaden on the beach near 8th Street in Manhattan Beach, when he was approached by a young girl who was "screaming frantically" that her cousin was buried in the sand nearby.
"It didn't really register what was happening," McDonald said. "When I got there, it was just sand, no hole."
McDonald, who was at the beach with about six other families, told the girl to alert a lifeguard and instructed one of Jaden's friends to "go get as many dads as possible."
When the lifeguard arrived, he and McDonald began digging with their hands, though they were not making much progress on their own.
"That sand is very unforgiving," McDonald said. "It was dry enough so that we really couldn't get it out, but close enough to the water to be very heavy. For each bit of sand that we got out, more kept coming back in."
A crowd of about 20 people gathered, including McDonald's brother-in-law David Austin, a local physician. The group began helping to dig with their hands. "It was like a bad nightmare, having this sand keep falling back in," said Austin.
After about a minute and a half of digging, McDonald saw a patch of the boy's blue bathing suit, though "his body was deeper than what we could get to... We could not budge him, couldn't get leverage. We just kept digging and pulling.
"For awhile there, it just seemed like he was under there way too long and we were not going to be able to get him out in time," McDonald said.
It took another three and a half minutes before Navarro was completely out of the sand, by which time his lips had turned blue and his breathing stopped. Fortunately, he still had a pulse, said Austin, who initiated mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the boy.
"In two minutes, he began to breathe on his own," Austin said. "He vomited twice and that meant he could've choked on the sand. If he was down there another minute his heart would have stopped."
Navarro was at the beach with his family, who was reportedly camped farther back from the water. The boy had been digging two large holes diagonally in the sand in an effort to form a tunnel several feet underground, said Shenbaum. "I don't know if a lifeguard saw it; when kids are kind of tunneling in, you really can't see it."
Shenbaum said there is a county ordinance against deep sand digging on the beach, and that it involves "good judgement" on the part of beachgoers.
"If you dig a small hole and sit your kid in it, no problem," he said. "But a hole for me is going to be a lot deeper [than] for an 8-year-old."
He said that incidents like these, while rare, "give everyone an awareness."
Austin said he spoke with the boy's mother on Monday, who was "thankful and very shaken by the whole thing." She requested to bring her son by soon to thank Austin and McDonald in person.
"I could tell she was traumatized by the event," Austin said. "She told me she didn't want to know all the details."
McDonald emphasized the role chance played in the rescue effort.
"We were just very lucky that we were having a party down there," he said. "It was a Sunday and it was a cold night."
If his sons weren't down near the water already, he added, he may not have been near enough to where the holes were dug to respond in time.
"He was minutes away from this being a fatality," Shenbaum said of Navarro's rescue. "One hundred percent credit goes to bystanders and the lifeguards for their quick action."