Beachgoers lose limbs in US shark attacks

2015-06-16 09:04


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Oak Island – US beachgoers cautiously returned to the ocean Monday after two young people lost limbs in separate, life-threatening shark attacks in the same town in North Carolina.

A 12-year-old girl lost her left arm below the elbow and suffered a leg injury on Sunday afternoon; then about an hour and 20 minutes later and 3.2km away, a shark bit off the left arm above the elbow of a 16-year-old boy.

Both had been swimming about 18m offshore, in waist-deep water.

A shark expert says the best response after one of these extremely rare attacks is to temporarily close beaches that lack lifeguards. Local officials acknowledged on Monday that they didn't make a concerted effort to warn people up and down the town's beaches until after the second attack.

Most beachgoers near the spot alongside a fishing pier where the first victim was attacked were staying in very shallow water or on the sand on Monday. Holly Helmig, 39, of Raleigh watched her 6-year-old son bobbing on a boogie board in shin-deep water instead of splashing in the waves farther out. Her 5-year-old daughter Zoe shovelled sand in a bucket next to her.

"I feel bad for the shark but I think he's hiding somewhere in the ocean," Zoe said.

Deputies saw a 2.1m shark on Sunday in an area between the two places where the attacks happened, Sheriff John Ingram said. Sharks of that size are common along the coast, Oak Island Town Manager Tim Holloman said, and authorities are not trying to hunt one down. But safety officials scouted for sharks from boats and a helicopter on Monday. One was spotted Monday morning, Holloman said.

Emergency calls

Recordings of emergency calls released on Monday include several people calling each attack in, some sounding nearly hysterical. The victims - a girl from Asheboro and a boy from Colorado Springs, Colorado - were bleeding heavily, and other beachgoers applied makeshift tourniquets.

"His arm is gone!" said one upset female caller near where the boy was attacked.

Randy Giles, 52, was sitting on the sand with his fiancée, Schalane Wolford, when he heard the girl scream, and called the emergency dispatcher immediately, before she was carried to the beach.

"At first I thought it was a jellyfish sting, but when [the man next to her] pulled her out of the water, she was bleeding and a lot of her arm was bit off, so I knew it was a shark," Giles said.

As people screamed to get out of the water, Giles said Wolford ran over to give the family her towels, and someone else used a cord from a boogie board as a tourniquet for the girl's arm.

Warnings only ‘voluntary’

After the second attack, town employees drove along beaches urging people to get out, but the instructions were voluntary and not mandatory. The town has no ordinance authorising officials to order the surf cleared even if sharks present a threat, Holloman said. As a result, they take their direction from a state law guaranteeing public access to beaches.

Surgeons amputated the girl's left arm below her elbow, and she has tissue damage to her lower left leg. The boy's left arm was removed below his left shoulder. Both were in good condition on Monday at the New Hanover Regional Medical Centre in Wilmington, where Dr Borden Hooks operated on both victims.

There were only 72 unprovoked shark attacks on humans around the world in 2014, including 52 in the US, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Three of them — all outside the US — were fatal.

Shark researcher George Burgess, who oversees the database, said he's aware of only two other multiple shark attacks on the same beach in one day. "It may be that there are big schools of fish out in the surf zone that are attracting the sharks," he said.

Read more on:    us  |  shark attack

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