Beaches closed after fatal shark attack in North San Diego County

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Posted by on April 25, 2008 at 11:35:40:

In Reply to: Solana Beach (San Diego) Fatal Shark Attack posted by Randy on April 25, 2008 at 09:42:43:

SOLANA BEACH – Several North County beaches were closed Friday morning after a man was killed in a shark attack off Fletcher Cove, officials said.

The swimmer, who was believed to be in his 50s, was attacked as he was swimming about 150 yards offshore shortly after 7 a.m., officials said.

A helicopter initially was sent to take the man to a hospital, but he was pronounced dead at a lifeguard station.

Witnesses told lifeguards that a “big gray shark” attacked the man, biting both his legs, said Solana Beach Marine Safety Capt. Craig Miller. The man has not been identified.

The man was swimming with a group of about 10 others, heading north from Fletcher Cove, when the attack occurred. The group regularly swims at the cove. All the swimmers were wearing wet suits.

Miller said two of the swimmers were about 20 yards ahead of the victim when he was attacked. They heard the victim screaming, went to his aid and brought him to shore, he said.

Encinitas Lifeguard Lt. Paul Chapman, who went to Fletcher Cove after the attack, said the victim's legs had suffered deep jagged lacerations, from the upper thighs to the lower shin, with a bite radius of about 22 inches.

“Wherever that thing is right now,” Chapman said, “it's pretty good-sized.”

Shark attacks are extremely rare in Southern California.

“I can't remember a shark ever being in this area before,” Miller said.

Officials closed beaches in Solana Beach, Del Mar and Encinitas after the attack.

Lifeguards in two vehicles were patrolling Solana Beach's 1.7 miles of coastline and a sheriff's helicopter flew overhead Friday morning, telling people to stay out of the water.

Beach closure signs also were posted.

“This is a tragic situation for Solana Beach and the surrounding areas and the county of San Diego,” said Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian.

Kellejian urged the public to listen to safety officers and to stay out of the water.

“It just doesn't happen. A shark attack is unheard of,” said Solana Beach Deputy Fire Chief Dismas Abelman.

In Encinitas, the city just north of Solana Beach, extra lifeguards were called in and they cleared the water as a precaution, warning surfers face-to-face not to go out.

“We're keeping the water clear and informing people that they shouldn't be in the water,” Chapman said. “A couple people have chosen to go in the water and surf at Swami's and one at Beacons, against our advice.”

Chapman said that seals and sea lions have been beaching themselves in the area – he said a crew from Sea World was on its way to rescue one as he spoke. Such beachings are a possible sign of a large predator in the coastal waters.

“Those are signs that say this isn't the place to go,” Chapman said. “We have one person fatally wounded and we have sea life exiting the water. It's better to say out of the water and give it time.”

He also said a juvenile great white shark washed up on a nearby beach a few weeks before.

Officials are trying to determine how long beaches should be closed. Solana Beach may close its beaches as long as 72 hours, Miller said. If swimmers ignore the ban, he said, sheriff's deputies would be called to enforce the order.

The swimmers who were with the victim were taken to a community center to be debriefed, Abelman said.

A Coast Guard helicopter was sent to the area. The crew helped clear the area and spotters were trying to “spot the culprit,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Clinton Dotson.

So far, no San Diego beaches have been closed, San Diego lifeguard Lt. Nick Lerma said. “It happened a significant distance from us, so we're sort of status quo,” Lerma said.

The state lifeguards who patrol Carlsbad's shoreline also did not feel the need to close that city's beaches, but did post warning signs and were broadcasting advisories from loudspeakers at lifeguard posts, said Lifeguard Travis Fryant.

“It's not a mandatory closure,” Fryant said. “We're letting the public know the facts and letting them make their own decisions about it.”

Lifeguards in Oceanside were also broadcasting warnings over their stations' loudspeakers, said city Lifeguard Emile Lagendijk.

The ocean temperatures off the coast are in the upper 50s, fairly typical for this time of year, according to Jim Purpura, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Rancho Bernardo.

The last time a shark was confirmed to have killed someone in San Diego County waters was in 1994.

The victim, 25-year-old Michelle Von Emster, went for a nighttime swim by herself in Ocean Beach April 14.

Her body, with her leg severed at midthigh, was found the following day two miles to the south, near the surfing area known as Garbage Reef.

Investigators determined she drowned after being bitten by a great white shark.

Homicide detectives were called in after friends of the victim raised questions of foul play.

Friends said the woman – whose body was found unclothed – would not swim alone or without a swim suit. They also wondered why Von Emster's purse was found on the bluffs above the beach, and why her clothing was never found.

Reports of a great white shark at the same spot raised alarms in 2003, two years after great white shark sightings caused a scare at the venerable surf spot at San Onofre State Beach. No one was harmed either time.

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