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‘Grab the surf leash!’ Beachgoers frantically try to save woman attacked by shark at popular surf spot

Six friends were playing Frisbee and thinking about surfing Saturday evening at San Onofre beach when they heard someone yelling “shark.”

Their actions in the next 15 minutes would give Leeanne Ericson a chance at survival.

The 35-year-old mother of three was attacked by a shark that stripped the muscle and flesh from her leg and briefly dragged her underwater, authorities said. On Monday, she remained in critical condition at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.

From land, it wasn’t long before the friends could see two men about 100 yards out, paddling in a surfboard with a woman on it, lying face down.

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One in the group, Hunter Robinson, dropped his beer and started toward the couple, running increasingly faster over the cobblestones that cover the shallows.

Ericson had been swimming on Saturday about 6:30 p.m. at the beach known as Church while her boyfriend surfed next to her. That’s when the shark bit the back of her right leg down to the bone and she disappeared under the water, bleeding profusely. Her boyfriend dived in after her.

“At first we were just going to help out,” said Robinson, a 34-year-old San Clemente resident. “We didn’t know what was going on until about 50 feet away, [when] the waves cleared up and I saw her leg.”

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His friend Thomas Williams splashed through the water by his side, with Grant Parker and Wade Nevitt following close behind. A nearby Marine who saw what was happening was rushing to help as well.

On the way out, Robinson yelled back to his girlfriend, Christy Cox, and Williams’ wife, Makenzie, and asked them to call 911. They were already dialing.

When the men reached Ericson and her exhausted boyfriend, they were all standing about waist-deep in the ocean. Ericson wasn’t moving but remained conscious.

“You could see she was bleeding pretty well and her entire hamstring was missing,” said Parker, 29, of Newport Beach. “You could see the back of her leg was just torn flesh.”

“At that point it sunk in,” said Williams, a Navy veteran who took an EMT course in September in hopes of getting a job with an ambulance service. “We were looking at the wound and you knew you had to tourniquet it, but I didn’t know what to use. Then Hunter said ‘grab the surf leash.’”

Together the men worked carefully to lift Ericson and loop the plastic line around her leg before tying it off. They continued over the slippery cobblestones, carefully carrying the surfboard so Ericson didn’t tumble into the water.

“It took everybody because every other step you take you could fall,” Robinson said.

Only later, after the adrenaline wore off, would the men realize their feet were bloodied and bruised. The friends said they didn’t even have time to think about whether the shark could still be near.

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As they approached the shoreline, people started speaking to Ericson to try to keep her awake. She responded faintly, saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ ”

Once on shore, they applied towels to her leg to try to slow the bleeding and continued to move her on the surfboard as quickly as possible to the parking lot in order to meet an emergency crew.

Thomas was checking her pulse, and within minutes an ambulance pulled up.

The medics wrapped Ericson’s leg and put her in the vehicle while her boyfriend tried to comfort her. She was later airlifted to a hospital.

Emerson writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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