Woman survives shark attack off Makaha with 'chunk' out of arm
2 Makaha condo workers say snorkeler was calm after being bit on the arm
By Will Hoover and Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers
Roger Debebar and Anthony Chapman don't claim they did anything heroic yesterday when an injured and bleeding woman approached them around 8:40 a.m. near the edge of the beach at the Hawaiian Princess condominiums and spoke three words:
"Help, please," said the woman, who had been snorkeling moments earlier. "Shark."
But Bryan Cheplic, spokesman for the city's emergency service department, said the two men's quick actions may have made all the difference in the state's first shark attack of the year.
"They used towels and blankets to control the bleeding and save her life, essentially," he said. "Nowadays, nobody wants to get involved. And the main point here is that these people got involved and they helped her."
Chapman, 49, said the woman was "bleeding bad and she had a chunk taken out of her arm."
Ten minutes after the woman was injured, a lifeguard on a Yamaha Waverunner and officers in the Honolulu Police Department's helicopter spotted what appeared to be "a very large shark, approximately 16 feet in length," Cheplic said.
They tracked the shark for another five to 10 minutes before it swam to deeper water, he said.
Randy Honebrink, investigative shark resource coordinator for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources, said it was the state's first shark attack of the year.
He said the animal that was spotted was a large tiger shark.
"It was big," Honebrink said. "Whether it was 16 feet or not, I don't know. We also don't know if that was the same shark that bit the person."
However, Honebrink said sharks usually swim alone.
The shark's presence off Lahilahi Point prompted city lifeguards to clear the ocean one mile in each direction and post warning signs along the beach.
The woman, described as being in her mid-40s, was taken to The Queen's Medical Center in serious condition with a wound to her forearm, as police and lifeguards kept an eye on a shark swimming about 100 yards offshore.
Debebar, 39, of Ma'ili and Chapman, 49, of Makaha — both maintenance employees with the Hawaiian Princess — said the least excited person on the scene was the victim.
"She was the calmest person I've ever seen who's just been bitten by a shark," Debebar said. "She actually saved herself. She dragged herself out of the water after being attacked and let us know she'd been hurt. We just dialed 911."
In addition to contacting authorities, Chapman said he fashioned a tourniquet out of a rag to stop the bleeding before Honolulu firefighters and EMS personnel arrived minutes later.
"She calmly told me to ease the pressure on the tourniquet every five minutes," Chapman said. "I kind of looked at her, and she said, 'I'm a doctor.' The lady did not complain once. And by the time I tied the tourniquet, I could hear the fire department and ambulance people coming. They were here quick."
While paramedics tended her wound, Debebar escorted a lifeguard and a police officer to the roof where they could clearly see the tiger shark circling offshore.
Meanwhile, Chapman had headed toward Lahilahi Point to alert the woman's husband, who had been surfing off the point and didn't know what happened.
"Her only concern the whole time was her husband," he said.
Cheplic said that after the woman was taken to the hospital, her condition was upgraded from serious to stable.
Authorities said there was another, unconfirmed shark sighting in the same area in the afternoon and that the shark warning signs would remain in place at least through midday today.
Cheplic said the HFD helicopter would fly over Lahilahi Point this morning. He said lifeguards would assess the situation after the flyover to decide if the warning signs should come down.
Until then, swimmers and surfers will be advised to stay out of the water there.
Reach Will Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org
and Dan Nakaso at email@example.com
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