Girl, 3, suffocates after sand pit collapses

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Abbie Livingstone-Nurse and her five-year-old brother, Joe, were trapped when the five-foot deep hole they were digging, on Upton Towans beach near Hayle in Cornwall, collapsed, burying them under a ton of sand. The children's stepfather Ian Sayer was able to pull Joe, who escaped uninjured, from the hole, but attempts to rescue Abbie, who was buried further down, were unsuccessful.

Ben May, a lifeguard who was on duty at the time, described how holidaymakers dug with their hands and used buckets and spades to try and shift the sand.

"When I looked into the pit all I could see was the father's back. It was a deep and narrow pit. The dry sand was filling up the pit and he was trying to hold it back when another bank of sand fell down," Mr May said. "I helped him out and gently got in while trying not to knock down any more sand. All I could see was one of her hands. I felt her face and tried to clear back the sand off it so she could breathe. I reached in and felt for her face and was up to my elbow. I had my hand on her mouth and kept it slightly open and I could feel her breathing the air which was coming down the hole made by my arm.

"By that time a lot of members of the public came to help and were trying to dig using plastic buckets and spades. We knew we had to start resuscitation and we were very keen to get to her because I could feel her breathing slowing.

"I tried pulling her out by her arm but she would not budge because of the weight of sand."

For half an hour lifeguards, who had shored up the hole's sides with their surfboards, struggled to resuscitate the girl, who was being crushed by the weight of sand on her chest. She was finally extricated after firefighters arrived with spades and shovels. She was taken by RAF helicopter to the Royal Cornwall Hospital near Truro where she was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

The girl's mother, Pippa Livingstone, from Goring, West Sussex, paid tribute yesterday to her "darling" daughter. "We are absolutely devastated - too devastated for words. She was our world. Abbie was fearless - she just wanted to try everything" she said.

Safety experts have urged parents to keep a close eye on their children while at the beach after a spate of accidents. Last week Jamie Cartwright, aged eight, drowned after being cut off by rapidly rising water while playing with his cousin on rocks in the Severn estuary.

In a another incident last week, lifeguards using jet-skis, surfboards and a rescue boat dragged 65 swimmers, including 12 children, to safety from a rip-tide at Perranporth, Cornwall.

Roger Vincent of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said: "Supervision is key for kids during school holiday times. We see an increase of problems when kids are out and about looking for adventure. The difficulty for parents is that they want to relax because they are on holiday. Something like digging holes may not seem dangerous but with young children this is less likely to be the case." RoSPA urged parents to be particularly alert to the danger of children wandering off and getting caught by incoming tides. Parents supervising small children should also take care to read the information boards on beaches regarding sea conditions.