A U.S. woman was impaled by a beach umbrella — and it’s not that uncommon

A woman was impaled by a beach umbrella on Sunday while lounging at Ocean City beach.
A woman was impaled by a beach umbrella on Sunday while lounging at Ocean City beach. Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A 46-year-old woman was impaled by a beach umbrella in Ocean City, Md., on Sunday. The umbrella, which was caught up in a gust of wind, was uprooted and landed in the woman’s chest.

Jessica Waters, a spokeswoman for the resort town told the Washington Post that the unnamed Pennsylvania resident was in stable condition.

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“Witnesses said one gust lifted the umbrella,” she said.

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The rental umbrella, which had been left unattended, pierced the woman in the chest. First responders and beachgoers immediately ran to the woman’s aid, and held the umbrella in place to avoid further injury. Once local firefighters arrived on the scene, they cut the wooden pole but left a small piece under the woman’s skin to avoid further damage, Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin told WMDT. She was then transported to Peninsula Regional Medical Center via helicopter.

While Waters said that “fortunately, something this significant doesn’t happen often,” experts point out that this isn’t an uncommon event.

On July 16, a British tourist visiting the Jersey Shore was injured when a beach umbrella was uprooted by heavy winds and the aluminium stake pierced through her ankle. First responders were forced to use bolt cutters to cut the rod so the woman could be transported to hospital.

In 2016, a woman died when she was stabbed in the chest by an umbrella that was caught in a strong gust of wind at Virginia Beach, and another woman was injured in 2010 in Ocean City when an umbrella got lodged in her thigh.

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Ed Quigley founded the non-profit organization Beach Umbrella Safety after he was pierced in the eye with the shaft of a beach umbrella in 2015.

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He was at Bethany Beach in Delaware, not far from Ocean City, when a gust of wind picked up and hurled an unattended beach umbrella in his direction.

“The oak shaft, that was about 1.5- to two-inches in diameter, went right through my left eye,” he tells Global News. “It shattered my eye socket, my eyeball dropped into my sinus and the shaft reached my brain cavity. I had to have brain surgery and my upper sinus was removed.”

His experience prompted him to start Beach Umbrella Safety in an effort to educate people on the dangers of unattended umbrellas on the beach and how to be safe.

“If you look at the top of an umbrella, it’s like a dome and it acts much like an airplane’s airfoil. With a gust of wind, the pressure above the umbrella will be lower than the pressure underneath and it will fly,” he says. “Even if you plant it securely in the sand and position it so it’s facing the wind, it can still be pulled out with a strong gust.”

For this reason, Quigley advocates the use of safety devices for your umbrella. His site lists a few options, the best, he says, being those that can be tethered or fixed to the bottom of a pole and filled with sand to offer extra weight.

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“Some can withstand gusts of wind travelling 35 miles [56 kilometres] per hour, and probably more. But trust me, if you’re at a beach with 35-mile [an hour] winds, you’re not having fun.”
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In addition to investing in a safety accessory, he also says it’s imperative to never leave a beach umbrella unattended.

“If the wind picks up, take down the umbrella immediately. If you get up to leave your umbrella, close it.”

He also says there are a number of videos online that demonstrate how to properly insert a beach umbrella in the sand.

Despite his experience, however, Quigley says he still goes to the beach.

“I took a picture three weeks ago from the boardwalk looking out across the dune and all you can see are the tops of umbrellas. It looks like a colourful field of mushrooms.”

Here’s hoping they were all safety affixed in the sand.