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Teen trapped in sand: ‘I thought I was going to die’

August 4, 2011 |  2:28 pm

Sand tunnel collapses in Newport Beach
A 17-year-old who was trapped under 6 feet of beach sand for 20 minutes said Thursday that he didn't know if he was going to survive after a tunnel he was building at Newport Beach collapsed.

"I thought I was going to die," the teenager, identified as Matt Mina, told NBC's "Today" show Thursday. "I was just really scared. I didn't know if anyone could hear me when I was screaming for help."

Mina, who lives in Virginia, was visiting his aunt and uncle in Orange County. He and a cousin had decided to go to the beach for the day.

The tunnel Mina was digging collapsed just after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, and it took dozens of lifeguards and beach-goers 20 minutes to free the teenager.

"I heard people, [but] I was fading in and out," Mina said. "I was kind of unconscious underneath the sand."

Mina was taken to an area hospital and later released. His mother thanked his rescuers Thursday.

"I just want everyone to know from the bottom of my heart how grateful we are that he's alive," Mina's mother, Melissa, told the Associated Press Thursday. "If it weren't for the bystanders, they wouldn't have gotten him out. … I wish [I] could go out there and hug everyone there that was digging."

Melissa Mina said she asked her son what it was like underneath the sand.

"When I finally spoke to Matt last night I asked, 'How does it feel to be buried alive?'… He said, 'Different, Mom. You have no idea how heavy the sand was,' " she said.

In the wake of Wednesday's accident, officials have warned beach-goers not to dig large tunnels in the sand. There have been several cases of serious accidents involving tunneling in Northern California this summer, including a boy who suffered brain damage after being trapped under the sand at a beach near Watsonville.


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-- Kate Mather

Photo: Beach-goers gather at the site where a sand tunnel collapsed in Newport Beach. Credit: KTLA-TV Channel 5