Boy Scout, 12, dies in sand dune collapse near Mich. park

George Hunter
Associated Press

South Haven — A 12-year-old Boy Scout has died after he was buried in a sand dune near a southwest Michigan state park, police said.

Gage Wilson of Portage died after he dug into the side of a sand dune during a Scout outing on a beach just north of Van Buren State Park on Saturday and crawled into the small space, according to a press release from the South Haven Police Department.

Police said two boys who were with Gage didn’t notice his disappearance for up to 30 minutes. At some point, Gage was located, and someone dialed 911.

An officer arrived and found Scout leaders performing CPR, South Haven Police Chief Natalie Thompson said in the release.

"The police officer and a volunteer from the South Haven Area Emergency Services took over CPR until an additional officer arrived with an AED (automated external defibrillator)," Thompson said. " The early resuscitation efforts were able to establish a pulse in the victim.

"Efforts were then made through difficult terrain including dunes, trails and water to transport the victim to a waiting ambulance," Thompson said. "The ambulance then transported the victim to an awaiting Air Care helicopter at a cleared landing zone nearby that had been established on Blue Star Highway."

Gage was flown to a Kalamazoo-area hospital, where he later died, Thompson said.

"This incident is still under investigation, however, it appears to be a tragic accident," Thompson said.

The Michigan Crossroads Council of the Boy Scouts of America released a statement, saying, “This is a very difficult time for our scouting family.”

In a 2007 letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Bradley Maron of Harvard Medical School, sand dune deaths are more common on beaches than shark attacks.

"Typically, victims became completely submerged in the sand when the walls of the hole unexpectedly collapsed, leaving virtually no evidence of the hole or location of the victim," Maron wrote.

Through the years, there have been a number of people killed or injured in sand dunes nationwide.

•Last year, Bryan Skilinski of New York died in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. 

•In 2016, 14-year-old Eoin Corcoran  died while playing at the sand dunes in St Brelade, New Jersey. He was digging a tunnel with a friend when it collapsed on him.

•Nathan Woessner, 6, was injured in 2013 after being trapped under 11 feet of sand at the Mount Baldy sand dune in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along Lake Michigan.

•In 2001, 17-year-old Matthew Gauruder was playing football with friends at an after-prom beach party in Westerly, Rhode Island, when he fell backward into an eight-foot-deep hole.

According to Pure Michigan, the state has the largest concentration of freshwater dunes in the world, with 300,000 acres of dunes. 

According to a 2015 study by Indiana University Northwest geologist Erin Argyilan, some holes in sand dunes are caused by a phenomenon called "dune decomposition chimneys."

"We propose that, within the dune, portions of the decayed trees progressively collapse and infill, and open holes are temporarily stabilized by the calcium-carbonate-rich cement,"  Argyilan wrote in the study. "Further, holes can exist undetected at the surface, covered by a thin veneer of sand."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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