First responders had to “race against the rising tide” as they worked to rescue a teenager who died when a sand hole on the Jersey Shore collapsed and “completely submerged” him, according to fire officials and live audio.
Fire officials said the depth of the 10-foot hole — dug by 18-year-old Levi Caverly and his 17-year-old sister at Toms River’s Ocean Beach 3 Tuesday— along with wet weather caused a “heartbreaking” accident and difficult rescue conditions.
“Two people buried in the sand,” a first responder can be heard saying via live radio, as rescuers hastened to the tragic scene.
“One is still buried up to the chest. Another one is below the sand,” another first responder says, according to audio from from Broadcastify. “One is completely submerged under the sand, probably approximately 10 feet.”
As the rescue unfolds, a first responder adds, “We have one still buried up to the chest. The other one is below…We have the second victim’s head, it’s above the sand. I’m going to give her oxygen.”
Laying on their stomachs, rescuers formed a “bucket brigade” to dig out the teens after Caverly was crushed to death, and his sister was buried up to her neck, officials said.
“The effort was monumental. It was just a heartbreaking situation. We could see one victim and we couldn’t see the other, and we had to find that one, and it took a while,” said Len Minkler, fire commissioner for Fire District 1 in Toms River.
“They used shoring to get the sand out of the hole, and we had to get the sand away from the hole with a bucket brigade so it wouldn’t keep getting into the hole,” Minkler said.“When they got to [Caverly], they yelled for oxygen. And somebody went into the hole, and it turned from a rescue to a recovery of a body.”
The depth of the hole, which the teens spent hours digging with Frisbees, put rescuers at risk of being buried too, he said.
“I was very nervous with some of the first responders. They’re laying on their stomachs and digging,” said Minkler, who was part of the sand removal team. “We definitely don’t want to hurt anybody.”
First responders quickly hit a snag because heavy digging equipment shook loose damp sand, said Brian Kubiel, chief administrator of Toms River Fire District 1.
“The problem with heavy equipment in these kind of events is you can’t have the vibration, because as you’re digging out it it’s vibrating, you’re just filling the hole,” Kubiel said.
So some rescuers resorted to digging by hand, he said.
“The only thing we could use heavy equipment for was to move the sand away from the hole. We had to resort to our tech rescue team using shoring and other means, and hand dig the victims out.”
Kubiel said the team of rescuers was made up of local fire companies, police and lifeguards — along with the father of the teens, Todd Caverly.
“They were all racing against the rising tide,” he said.
Kubiel warned all beach-goers not to dig in the sand deeper than their knees — especially during periods of wet weather.
“If you’re going to dig at the beach, please don’t do it any more than knee-deep, because the beach sand can collapse at any moment. Everybody wants to have fun, we understand, but knee-deep, then stop, because we can get you out from there,” he said.
“We have some collapses, but we’ve had nothing of this magnitude. I don’t recall a collapse of any magnitude on the beach. We’re dealing with a lot of emotions,” he said.