It wasn’t until I told this story to someone the other day that it occurred to me that I hadn’t ever really told many people about it before. So here goes…
The day I almost died
I was in year 10 and it was school holidays in my home town of Mackay. My friends and I were at that age when parents considered us old enough to be left to our own devices, free to roam the streets on our bikes and get up to mischief away from prying eyes.
My friends and I had constructed a makeshift sandboard and headed out to an inland sand dune that we had found on our bikes for the day.
This sand dune was actually a sand dump used by land developers so there would be the occasional dump truck that would haul a load of sand away to who knows where.
The removal of these loads of sand created a short vertical drop off at the top of about 5 feet and a very steep face for us to board down.
Sometime during the day I was taking a break in the shade of the drop off about 5 or 10 metres away from the main sandboard run watching my two mates take turns board down and carry the board back up in turn in the kind of limitless energy that only kids and marathon runners possess.
While I was resting with my back against this compacted sand wall I started to dig into the side and make a small tunnel. Over the course of the next hour or so I had burrowed a tunnel so far into the side that I had to reach into it to scrape the back of the tunnel so that only my knees were showing.
Looking back at this now I can see how silly this is but I remember thinking that sand shouldn’t really weigh that much if it collapsed and I would be able to just push my way up through it if the worst came to the worst.
Once I felt that I couldn’t dig the tunnel any further into the side of the sand face without disappearing completely into it I started on a tunnel next to it with the idea that I could then join them up.
I was making good progress into the compacted hard sand and it was comfortable being inside the cool damp cave like tunnels out of the hot dry sand face.
The tunnel was large enough for me to kneel up in and I decided to hobble all the way into it for the first time and make the virgin journey from one tunnel to the other.
I got to the very back of the first tunnel when I must have bumped the dividing wall between the two tunnels. Then it all happened so quickly that I didn’t even realise what had happened.
Side note – my heart is beating pretty fast tying this now as I think about this moment. I was so unaware about the dangers. It had occurred to me that it might collapse, but like I said I had no grasp on how heavy sand could actually be.
Silently, an in a split second 2 feet of sand that was above me fell in on me. I didn’t even have enough time to react so I was crushed where I knelt in kind of a Pompeii esq pose.
Complete silence and smothering darkness completely enveloped me as if I was in a vacuum or space. I remember experiencing a feeling of absolute and complete helplessness as I realised that there was so much pressure on every square inch of my body that I couldn’t even move my little finger let alone try to move a leg or arm.
I panicked but I couldn’t manifest this panic in anyway. I couldn’t scream, couldn’t cry, couldn‘t blink.
Luckily my head had fallen next to my right had which had created a tiny airspace about as big as my fist next to my face. I sucked my last two sand filled breaths remember coming to terms with the realisation that I was going to die and I was surprisingly calm about it. My last thought was about the Christmas that I had just spent with my family as I drifted off to peaceful unconsciousness.
The next memory I have is being dragged from the sandy cave in site. For some reason my two friends decided to come and look for me. They knew approximately where I was digging and when they saw the caved in area and couldn’t find me they put two and two together.
If they had ridden the dune a few more times or just left me to my own devices I wouldn’t be typing this today.
Lesson learned? For sure! And I’ve now got a phobia of confined spaces.