Final moments of girl, seven, buried by sand are revealed – as parents pay tribute

The devastated parents of a girl who died after being buried by sand on a beach in Florida have paid tribute to the seven-year-old.

Sloan Mattingly had been helping to dig a deep hole with her brother Maddox, nine, when it collapsed on Tuesday afternoon.

Beachgoers at the scene in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea rushed to pull out the pair, but Sloan died after being taken to hospital.

Sloan Mattingly. Pic: GoFundMe
Sloan Mattingly died after being buried by sand on a beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida. Pic: GoFundMe

She was reportedly buried in the 1.8m (6ft) deep pit for around 20 minutes.

Her brother is in hospital in a stable condition.

A tribute by her mother Therese, posted on a GoFundMe page for the family, described her death as a “freak accident”.

She added: “It took away our greatest 7.5 years. Don’t tell us you’re sorry for our loss… don’t do that to us. We experienced the purest human being and we are forever changed by her.

“We love you beyond any stretch of the imagination. Our sweet Sloan. What we would give.”

More than $130,000 (£103,000) has been raised on the website to help towards funeral costs.

Sloan and Maddox Mattingly
The Mattingly family. Pic: Facebook

Sloan’s father also posted on social media: “Our baby is in heaven, love you too much Sloan.”

The family had been on holiday when the tragedy happened.

Her uncle Chris Sloan told KFOR-TV: “They were having a good time. Everybody was really excited to actually see them out there.”

He added: “Later we found out that after the sand had caved, [Sloan] kept trying to grab up Maddox’s leg to get up out of the sand, and eventually he couldn’t feel her moving anymore.

“The sand had been up to [Maddox’s] chest, and he was screaming for help, and a lot of people did come and help.”

Mr Sloan described his niece as “always happy”.

He added: “She was really fun to be around. She had a lot of energy and just totally innocent, and that’s what hurts the most in all this.”

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Witness Harry Defina told Sky News’ US partner network NBC News he believed the girl’s father had also been helping to dig the hole moments before the collapse.

He added: “I could see the boy a little bit, but all I can see… was the top of the girl’s head. I saw the father was just beside himself.

“It’s still such an upsetting episode to have been there.”

Sloan and Maddox Mattingly
Sloan Mattingly was seven years old. Pic: Facebook

The tragedy has prompted a warning from the American Lifeguard Association about the dangers of digging holes on beaches, with the group urging authorities to step up patrols in areas where the activity is known to be popular.

Director of health and safety Bernard J Fisher II said: “The recent incident in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is a heart-wrenching reminder of why we must work together to keep our beaches safe.”

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