Esther Kang

Man bitten by shark in Manhattan Beach, rescued by surfers [UPDATE]

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Blood covers the rescue board a lifeguard use to bring swimmer Steven Robles, after he was attacked by a shark. Photo by Mimi Miller

Blood covers the rescue board a lifeguard use to bring swimmer Steven Robles, after he was attacked by a shark. Photo by Mimi Miller

Thanks to quick and courageous action by swimmers and surfers, Lomita resident Steve Robles, 50, is recovering at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, after having been attacked by what authorities believe was a six- to eight-foot juvenile Great White Shark.

Robles was swimming from the Hermosa Beach to the Manhattan Beach pier with a dozen fellow members of the SCAQ (Southern California Aquatics) swim team when the attack occurred at about 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning.

The shark had been hooked by a pier fisherman approximately 45 minutes earlier and was still on the line, according to several witnesses.

“We had stopped at the 8th Street buoy to regroup and had just started swimming again when I heard Steve screaming about five feet ahead of me,” SCAQ swimmer Mary Ellen Koetsier-Farr said. “When I reached him, Nader [ Nejadhashemi] and Susan [Brilliant] were holding him up. Nader said he’d been bit.”

“I knew Steve was breathing because he was screaming. So, I looked under the water and saw he was bleeding heavily from his chest area. But there were no bubbles coming out, so at least I knew his lungs weren’t punctured.”

Koetsier-Farr is a registered nurse.

“We were screaming for help and having trouble keeping Steve afloat. That’s when Nader saw a stand-up paddler and yelled at the paddler to give us his board. If Nader hadn’t had the presence of mind to do that I don’t know what would have happened.”

The unidentified paddler quickly paddled over, jumped off his board and helped slide Robles onto the board.

“Then a bunch of surfers came over and we all started pushing Steve toward shore,” Koetsier-Farr said. “When we reached the waves zone, we were having trouble keeping Steve on the board. But then a lifeguard arrived and put him on a rescue board.”

Los Angeles County Lifeguard Chris Malone was patrolling the beach in a lifeguard truck when he heard people screaming that there had been a shark attack. Malone raced into the water with his rescue board and brought Robles to shore.

“When Steve got to shore I was able to see his wounds. It looked like he been sliced with a dozen knives,” Koetsier-Farr said.

Swimmers and surfers work to bring the shark attack victim to shore. An unidentified man on a paddleboard is credited with pulling the victim up on his paddleboard so the victim would be brought to shore.  Photo by Leslie Stokes

Swimmers and surfers work to bring the shark attack victim to shore. An unidentified man on a paddleboard is credited with pulling the victim up on his paddleboard so the victim would be brought to shore. Photo by Leslie Stokes

The Manhattan Beach Fire Department paramedics treated large lacerations on the right side of his chest, under his ribcage and on his right hand.

Lifeguards and the Manhattan Beach police quickly ordered swimmers from the water. The beach was reopened several hours later.

Los Angeles County Lifeguard Captain Stacy Lizotte oversees fellow lifeguards and Manhattan Beach paramedics treat shark bite victim Steve Robles. Photo by John "Biff" Collins

Los Angeles County Lifeguard Captain Stacy Lizotte oversees fellow lifeguards and Manhattan Beach paramedics treat shark bite victim Steve Robles. Photo by John “Biff” Collins

Hermosa Beach resident Justin Hoot was working at a surf rental shop in a nearby parking lot when he and his coworkers “heard the most bloodcurdling scream” for about 30 seconds, he said. “Then we heard the word ‘shark.’”

As his coworker ran to alert the lifeguard, Hoot said he grabbed a surfboard and ran to the water. He paddled out to the scene and joined the other surfers and swimmers assisting Robles.

Lifeguards kept the Manhattan Beach pier and neighboring beaches closed while a search for the shark was conducted. Photo by Kevin Cody

Lifeguards kept the Manhattan Beach pier and neighboring beaches closed while a search for the shark was conducted. Photo by Kevin Cody

“It’s a testament to the beach community, how everyone is willing to jump in and help someone in need,” Hoot said. “I’ve been at the beach my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Manhattan Beach residents Lance Nelson and James Kaiser, both 13, were surfing south of the pier when the shark attacked.

“We saw the shark on the fisherman’s line writhing and going back and forth for about 30 minutes, but didn’t think much of it until we heard the screaming,” Nelson said. “Then we paddled ashore calling for the lifeguards.”

Kaiser said he’s surfed at the Manhattan Beach pier every day for the past 26 days and that fishermen have been “chumming” for sharks for the past week. Shark fishermen commonly throw fish guts into the water to attract sharks.

Surfer Coby Fenwick said as they lifted Robles onto the paddle board, he could see the shark swimming below them, about five feet away.

“Quite a morning I’d say,” said Fenwick, who was visiting over the weekend from Santa Clarita. “I’m glad he’s gonna be okay.”

Robles is a former Los Angeles lifeguard. Last August, he swam for 13 hours from Catalina Island to the shore of Rancho Palos Verdes Palos Verdes to raise money for an orphanage and school in Nicaragua, a project supported by Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach.

While shark sightings are common in Manhattan Beach, this incident marks the first attack of a swimmer, said Eric Martin, director of the Roundhouse Aquarium on the pier. He believes the attack was a “response bite” from the shark. Sharks, he explained, open and close their mouths when trying to free themselves from a fish hook.

Eric Martin of Roundhouse Aquarium fields questions from the media. Photo by Kevin Cody

Eric Martin of Roundhouse Aquarium fields questions from the media. Photo by Kevin Cody

“What happened was the guy swam and he was at the wrong place at the right time,” Martin said. “It was not the shark’s fault. It was actually caused by the fisherman who didn’t want to cut the line.”

Martin said two fishermen had been attempting to bring the shark in for about 45 minutes when the shark attacked the swimmer.

Los Angeles County lifeguard captain Tracy Lizotte said the fishermen told him they were fishing with anchovies and sardines and had not been chumming for sharks. Lizotte said Fish and Game will investigate whether the fishermen were violating any laws.

Koetsier-Farr said she’s been swimming from the Hermosa to the Manhattan pier for 17 years and will continue to do so.

“I can’t tell you how great a feeling of accomplishment it is to round the Manhattan Pier. But I’m not swimming around the Manhattan Beach pier anymore until they stop the shark fishers. I knew there were sharks, but I had no idea they were chumming for sharks. I’ll stop at the Eighth Street buoy until they make shark fishing from the pier illegal.”

Publisher Kevin Cody contributed to this report. 

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