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

California teen Matt Mina’s day at the beach become a life-and-death struggle when he found himself buried alive under six feet of sand. His narrow escape from suffocation was captured on dramatic video by an onlooker who documented a crew of some 40 rescuers frantically digging to rescue the trapped teen.

The 17-year-old was an outing with pals at Newport Beach Wednesday afternoon, digging tunnels and trying to make them meet. But when Mina climbed into his hole, the surrounding sand collapsed and put him literally six feet under.

“I thought I was going to die,” Mina told Matt Lauer and Ann Curry live via satellite from Orange, Calif., Thursday. “I was just really scared. I didn’t know if anyone could hear me when I was screaming for help.”

Frantic rescuers
Thankfully, Mina’s cousin had seen what happened and alerted lifeguards. While several beachgoers started to attempt to dig the trapped teen out, using improvised tools from swimming fins to boogie boards, search-and-rescue teams poured in from three communities.

The buzz of activity caught Skip Snead’s eye. He had dropped his 10-year-old son off at a friend’s house and was heading home when the saw fire trucks and police cars racing to the scene. Fearing that the rescuers might be looking for his own son, he followed them to the site. He had a video camera with him.

“I was frantically looking, making sure my kid wasn’t the one buried in the sand,” Snead, appearing alongside Mina on TODAY, told Curry and Lauer. “I was pretty scared, and when I found out it wasn’t my son, I just let the camera roll.”

As he did, Snead didn’t think he was going to record a happy outcome. “We thought they were going to pull up a dead body.”

Mina doubted his survival as well, telling Curry and Lauer he “had no clue” people were trying to dig him up, their efforts muffled by 6 feet of sand. Luckily, he could breathe during his ordeal.

“I threw my head around, trying to make some room because my arms were kind of behind me,” the teen told Curry and Lauer. “I pretty much made some wiggle room — I had a little pocket of air.”

When rescuers finally reached him after some 30 long minutes, Mina was in a daze. “I heard people, [but] I was fading in and out; I was kind of unconscious underneath the sand,” he explained.

Snead, publisher of a surfing magazine, said that when Mina was pulled to safety, the large crowd watching the drama unfold burst into applause. The teen was rushed to the hospital, was treated, and then released, little the worse for his ordeal.

Newport Beach Fire Chief Jeff Boyles told KTLA-TV in Los Angeles that he regarded the beach tunneling Mina and his pals were engaging in as “a very dangerous operation,” and that the teen was fortunate to have survived.

“The fact that he’s 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,” Boyles said.

Lauer asked Mina if his digging days were over. He cracked a somewhat embarrassed smile and replied: “Yeah, for now — definitely!”

Added Snead: “I can’t believe he lived. I’m sitting next to a walking dead man right now.”