By CHELSEA JENSEN
A 28-year-old Kailua-Kona man is recovering from shark bites to his leg following an attack Tuesday afternoon in waters off the Mahaiula area of Kekaha Kai State Park in North Kona.
The man was snorkeling with several people about 30 yards offshore shortly before 1 p.m. when he reportedly spotted a tiger shark, estimated at 12 to 14 feet in length, the Hawaii Police Department said. As the man attempted to swim back to shore, the shark bit him on his right thigh and calf causing non-life-threatening injuries.
Edward Dalton and Alan Eriksson, who were with a group of friends visiting the park from Hilo, were among the first to help the man out of the water. The two said the man was about 20 yards offshore, where the water is about 10 to 15 feet deep, when the attack occurred. The group had left the water just minutes before.
“The shark just jumped out of the water and grabbed his leg with his mouth and then he just started screaming,” said Dalton, who added he could see the shark’s head, dorsal fin and back during the attack. “There was a fat blood trail.”
Dalton said the man swam almost to shore on his own strength before he and Ericksson helped him out of knee-deep water and dragged him up the sand.
The group provided towels and whatever else they could to help a man they thought was an emergency medical technician — later identified as volunteer Hawaii Fire Department 7-Bravo Capt. John Bertsch, who controlled the bleeding.
Another beachgoer, Mike LeNort, who’d just gotten out of the water from snorkeling in the area before the attack, said the wound cut through about 1 inch of flesh and that bone was visible. The shark was actively patrolling the bay after the attack.
A Hawaii County helicopter subsequently flew the man, who was conscious and responsive, to Kona Community Hospital. An update on his condition was not available as of press time.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources, under which the authority of the beach area falls, closed Kekaha Kai Park’s Mahaiula and Kua Bay sections following the attack. Shark warning signs were posted.
DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement will coordinate with the Fire Department to conduct a fly-over of the area around 11 a.m. today. If no sharks are present, the beach will reopen as early as noon.
This is the second shark attack in West Hawaii waters so far in 2013. On Jan. 16, 43-year-old Paul Santos was surfing in waters off Kiholo Bay in North Kona when a shark bit his hand, nearly severing it. In 2011, there were two reports of sharks biting boards, but not injuring the riders, near Lyman’s surf spot in Kailua-Kona.
Prior to that, an attack occurred in October 1999 when a 16-year-old boy had his arm bitten by a 6- to 8-foot shark while he was surfing shortly before sunset off Old Kona Airport Park, according to West Hawaii Today archives. An unconfirmed attack was also reported April 1987 in Kailua Bay and a confirmed attack occurred in 1963 off South Kona, according to the archives.