Woman describes moment she fought off great white shark

The 10-metre predator tore a chunk from her thigh 'like a perfect bite out of a watermelon'

Charlotte Beale
Saturday 29 July 2017 10:58 BST
Shark attack survivor describes the moment she was bitten

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Louise Thomas

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A woman survived a great white shark attack by digging into its eyes ‘like a cup of jelly’.

The 10-metre predator attacked Leeanne Ericson as she was surfing near San Diego, California, dragging her underwater and biting into her thigh bone.

But the mother-of-three fought back, eventually forcing the shark to swim off.

Speaking for the first time since the April attack, Ms Ericson told ABC News' Good Morning America that she had been celebrating a family birthday at San Onofre State beach in California, when she decided to go for an evening surf.

After paddling out to around 100 metres off shore, she said her legs were dangling from her board when she felt a bump.

She thought it was her boyfriend Dusty Phillips foot, but as the creature chomped down on her leg, she quickly realised she in a fight for her life.

“I just remember thinking about my kids and [Dusty] and trying to push the shark off me,” she said.

“I just started digging”, she said, into what she now thinks was the shark’s eye. It felt like I was digging out a cup of jelly.”

As quickly as it had attacked, the shark swam off.

Mr Phillips paddled back to his partner immediately. But the great white had torn off his girlfriend’s flesh from her hip to her knee.

“It looked like a perfect bite out of a watermelon,” he told Surfline.com.

Ms Ericson recovering in hospital with one of her children.

 Ms Ericson recovering in hospital with one of her children.
 (Screengrab/ ABC News Good Morning America)

“Bone exposed from the hip to the knee. There was nothing there. The amount of blood in the water, the amount of flesh missing from her leg – I thought she was a goner.”

Ms Ericson had taken in a large amount of water as the shark held her under the surface. Doctors later told her she had also swallowed pieces of her own flesh and blood which were floating in the sea.

She was so grey she seemed already dead, said Mr Phillips.

He dragged his girlfriend back to shore on his board as bystanders called an ambulance where Paramedics induced a coma.

Nine weeks in an intensive care unit and had eight operations later, she still has reduced feeling below her right knee, but she can take a few steps supported by a leg brace.

But her recovery has come with a cost. The US healthcare system requires her to pay for her own treatment. Antibiotics alone have cost $36,000, (£27,500) she said.

Her mother launched a crowdfunding campaign, which has raised $110,000 (£84,000) of its $200,000 (£153,000) target so far.

Ms Ericson has had to leave her apartment and give up full-time custody of her children, four-year-old twins and an 11-year-old.

The couple think the great white, which was not yet an adult, was hunting a seal they saw nearby before the incident.

There has been a spate of great white sightings along the California coastline this year, as experts say their population is rising.

Warmer waters caused by El Niño, as well as higher populations of their prey, including sea lions and elephant seals, are thought to be the cause.

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