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Officials warn of beach tunneling after boy buried for 20 minutes

August 4, 2011 |  7:22 am

Rescuers pulled a teen from a hole at Newport Beach after sand collapsed.

Newport Beach authorities say a teenager buried under beach sand for 20 minutes Wednesday was taking part in a dangerous activity known as "tunneling."

Teens building tunnels at the beach have resulted in several injuries this summer, including a boy buried in Santa Cruz County who suffered severe injuries.

In Newport Beach, lifeguards and beach-goers frantically dug for 20 minutes before rescuing the teen, who was taken to a hospital and is expected to recover.

The incident occurred near 54th Street shortly after 3:30 p.m. The boy dug for an hour to create the hole.  The sides collapsed, burying him.

"This gentleman was about 7 feet below the surface of the sand," Newport Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Boyles told KTLA News. "He was doing what we call tunneling, which is a very dangerous operation. The sand collapsed on him, essentially burying him alive."

Boyles said such incidents have a "high fatality rate."

"The fact that he's still alive today -- I think he has a lot to be owed to luck, and to the great efforts of the lifeguards and fire personnel that dug him out."

Lifeguards in California and Florida as well as other coastal areas have been warning about the dangers of tunneling.

There have been several cases of serious accidents involving tunneling in Northern California this summer. In one case, a boy trapped under the sand at a beach near Watsonville suffered brain damage.

There have also been cases reported in New Jersey.

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-- Shelby Grad and Britney Barnes

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Photo: Site of the Newport Beach tunnel collapse. Credit: KTLA-TV Channel 5