Locals on the Caribbean island of Antigua are up in arms over a British coroner’s finding that an English mother of two died after walking into a deadly patch of quicksand on the shore of a popular beach there.
Nicola Raybone had just arrived at the Jolly Beach Resort on the island after flying in to attend her father’s wedding. She apparently had a drink in a bar and went for a walk, leaving her sandals and mobile phone in the bar – only to become stuck fast in quicksand, a British inquest found. Her cries for help went unheard by wedding guests as the tide swept in and covered her. (See our earlier story: Mother swallowed by quicksand at the Jolly Beach Resort.)
Locals, however, are puzzled by the finding and have never heard of quicksand in the area. The Antigua Observer newspaper interviewed seasoned diver Paul Roos, who ran a dive centre at Jolly Beach for 30 years, close to where the tragedy happened.
“I have never in my life encountered quicksand out there,” Roos said, adding that Jolly Beach was great for families because as a gentle sloping beach with hard sand, it had no heavy undertows.
The coroner in Britain mentioned the quicksand aspect. “Her family went to look for her but it was going dark. It was easy to sink deep into the sand. The beach sloped and it became pitch black.” British newspapers noted that the coroner said “the tide that night was very rough and high”. The coroner brought in a verdict of accidental death, remarking that events had happened at “frightening” speed.
But the tide table from St Johns (the capital of Antigua and Barbuda) shows that the difference between high and low tide that day was just 33.5cm. Other people claim that Antigua’s high tide is generally only 40cm from its low tide.
The Jolly Beach Resort wrote: “Despite this tragic accident, the public beach our resort shares with other hotels is one of the safest in Antigua, and no report of quicksand has ever been recorded. Both the examination conducted by Antigua’s government pathologist Dr Lester Simon and the results of the private inquest conducted by Mrs Hind concluded a verdict of accidental death due to drowning.”
Quicksand forms in saturated loose sand which is suddenly agitated. When water in the sand cannot escape, the sand liquefies, loses strength and cannot support weight. The saturated sediment may appear solid until a sudden change in pressure or shock triggers liquefaction, causing the sand to form a suspension and lose strength.
In this case, however, the quicksand appears to be elusive.
Written by : Peter Needham