WAILUKU - Oregon visitor Tom Kennedy swam for his life after he felt a shark bite him on the leg as he and relatives were snorkeling in waters off of Halama Street in Kihei on Friday morning.
"I started swimming as fast as I could. . . . Obviously I wanted to get out of the water. I kept watching behind; I was concerned it would come back again," said the 61-year-old of Lake Oswego.
Kennedy and two other relatives had taken their paddle boards out several hundred yards off shore and anchored them and went snorkeling. But the water was "turbid," and there were not a lot of fish around, so after about 20 minutes they decided to hop back on their boards and head elsewhere.
While waiting to be wheeled into surgery at Maui Memorial Medical Center on Friday afternoon, Oregon resident Tom Kennedy describes being attacked by a shark while snorkeling in Kihei earlier in the day.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"I started kicking. I started heading for my board, which I could see," Kennedy said. "I was just moving along in a straight line and suddenly (I) felt a sensation, something big grabbing me on the leg and turned, obviously it was a shark, I could see its left eye and part of its sort of face and head. (Then) it released me."
He swam quickly to try to get back on his board.
"When I swam further, I started to bleed. I could see the trail of blood."
He warned his relatives to get out of the water, thinking his blood would attract the shark again.
Holly Buchanan, a relative who was out in the water with Kennedy, works as an emergency room nurse. She was able to use Kennedy's paddle board leash as a tourniquet.
A Wailea Canoe Club coach, Jacob Abeytia, said that he and a novice group of paddlers were nearby and about to turn in a different direction when "basically we started hearing cries for help. They were waving their arms. They were in distress."
Abeytia said that Kennedy and two others were clustered together, each on a paddle board.
He added that club members did not see the shark, but as they approached the group they could see blood underneath the paddle boards. The paddlers calmly got Kennedy and Buchanan into the canoe and brought them to shore.
Construction crew members who had been working in a nearby house called 911.
From his bed at Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kennedy said that first responders arrived quickly after the 9:40 a.m. attack.
Kennedy suffered multiple lacerations to his lower left leg and thigh while in the water around 200 yards off shore fronting 1790 Halama St. near Kalama Park, officials said.
Several hours after the attack, Kennedy was still wearing his black board shorts. He was calm and smiling as he awaited surgery.
The shark attack prompted state and county officials to prohibit swimmers from entering waters near the site of the attack all day Friday. Initially, the closure stretched from Kamaole Beach Park III to Waipuilani Park. In the afternoon, the closure extended to north of Waipuilani Park to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary because a crew aboard a Fire Department helicopter spotted an 8- to 10-foot tiger shark near the sanctuary.
Kennedy told officials the shark that attacked him was a 10-foot tiger shark.
Officials planned to re-evaluate the situation today. Off-limits ocean areas could be reopened at 11 a.m. today if there are no more confirmed shark sightings.
Safety signs were posted on beaches, and the Fire Department's Air One helicopter surveyed the area. Ocean Safety officers patrolled on personal watercraft.
Friday's attack follows a string of reported shark attacks and sightings in the past couple of months on Maui. Those include:
* On Nov. 4, 30-year-old Marcelino "Marc" Riglos was attacked by possibly a 12- to 15-foot tiger shark while he and a friend were spearfishing in waters off of the Waiehu Golf Course. Riglos suffered injuries to his right ankle and foot.
* On Oct. 27, a 51-year-old California woman was attacked by a shark estimated to be 10- to 12-feet long at Makena Landing. She suffered puncture wounds to her right inner thigh and lacerations to her front and back of her right hand from pushing the shark away.
* On Oct. 22, a sea turtle was attacked by a shark estimated to be 10- to 12-feet long at Kanaha Beach Park. The turtle suffered massive wounds to one of its flippers and had to be euthanized because of its injuries and other unrelated medical problems.
* On Oct. 20, a lifeguard swimming in the water at Makena State Park about 3 to 5 yards from shore reported being followed by a gray shark. He got out of the water safely.
* On Oct. 18, 55-year-old David Peterson of Pukalani had his standup paddle board bitten by a shark off "Kite Beach," or Kaa Point, near Kanaha Beach Park. He was uninjured.
After the Nov. 4 attack, a state aquatic biologist said there was no evidence that the attacks were related in some way, but just purely coincidental. But added that the number of shark attacks in Hawaii seems to be more numerous in the fall into winter period, although he didn't know the reason for the trend.
Kennedy said he does standup paddle boarding on Lake Oswego and wasn't a newcomer to the ocean.
But, as for getting back into the ocean again, he's not sure.
"It's a great question. I haven't processed my thinking on it," he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.