10th Sept 2012
1600hrs Kylie and Kim set off from “ICE” then anchored at EueikiIsland (Treasure Island Resort), for PauIsland one mile to the east. Kylie is paddling a two person Kayak. Kim is swimming. Kylie is a 28 yo. Professional Photographer, free diver, Scuba diver, surfer, conservationist and water baby!, Kim is a 30yo.Dive master and Marine Biologist working for an international Whale Shark research center( www.whaleshark.org.au) in Australia and Marathon swimmer in training for an upcoming event. This outing was a training swim for her. The Kayak is a quality two person inflatable Kayak. They had with them water and a Hand held VHF radio and were advised to monitor channel 26. (Channel 26 has repeater stations throughout Vavau and is an unofficial safety and calling channel for most boats in the area.) Kylie is a competent crew member with STCW 95 and has been permanent crew on ICE for four months.
They completed the swim to Pau island in quick time and I monitored from ICE, with Binoculars, their arrival and dragging the kayak ashore.. Shortly thereafter, I went ashore on Eueiki island for a meeting and took my VHF Handheld with me, monitoring ch. 26. At around 1700hrs, I turned my radio off, as we made a conference phone call to associates in Nuku ‘Alofa. My radio was still turned off at around 1520hrs when we heard a faint shout for Help?..I moved out of the restaurant thinking it came from a guest in distress on the island and shouted “where are you?” Then another shout from the water and I saw Kym paddling the kayak hard, toward the beach about 250 mtrs away. I turned on my radio, called them and Kylie answered calmly, saying she had been bitten by a shark!
I screamed to all on the beach who were wondering, “Shark Bite”, so they were aware of the urgency. The Islands Aluminum Tender was already being launched. I headed to the beach destination of the Kayak, with Kim still paddling hard and strong, wondering how long Kylie had been in the Kayak and curious about how calm she was on the radio. I confirmed to the tender, as it sped past, that it was a shark bite and to NOT remover her from the Kayak, fearing more blood loss or trauma from shock. Amit was in the water chest deep and would be the first to reach the Kayak from shore . The tender reached it about I minute before Amit , but stood by, as advised, with Kim going for it. Kylie was still conscious and talking, but not moving her legs. She had not looked at the injury. I had prepared Amit with the instruction to pull the Kayak fast through the shallows to the jetty where two doctor “guest” on the resort were now headed.
As soon as the Kayak was in shallow water, I was able to check Kylie. She was conscious and talking. I did not know what to expect, but felt it must be a non life threatening injury, possibly small, because of Kylies responses’ but at my first sight of the wound it appeared quite the reverse. There was major trauma to the area around her buttocks and inner thighs. I immediately investigated for major blood loss, hoping the femoral artery had not been cut? but fortunately there was no flowing blood from the substantial skin and fatty tissue lacerations. I did not try to move her, as she had the weight of her good leg on top of the wound and I though it may be restricting the blood flow. The lower part of her leg was also pressured from being jammed into the inflatable floor and side tubes. Her color was ok and breathing appeared normal and she gave a faint smile, so I did not see any sign of imminent collapse, I knew the Kayak floor was watertight and would hold any blood loss, so carefully checked for blood , but there was VERY little??.. The doctors, one an ER specialist, the other a pediatrician then arrived and I handed Kylie to their capable hands.. they were total champions!!
As the doctors took over and having sen the wound, I told everyone we will need emergency evacuation and efforts were started to prepare the Resorts High speed boat currently on a mooring. We needed to notify the hospital and police for them to be on standby. I asked for phone numbers which were being chased up, but to save time decided to call NeiafuPort control on Ch 26 at around 1735hrs. No response. I decided to call a Mayday on Channel 16, as while Kylie appeared stable for the moment, I considered this a very serious if not potentially a life threatening situation. One yacht north of the island responded, but I advised the situation and wanted contact from Neiafu , A further call and no response. I advised I was switching to Channel 26 and gave another Mayday call which was immediately returned by the ‘Aquarium restaurant-Mike”. I advised the situation, requesting they contact the hospital and police and that we may be leaving EueikiIsland shortly as soon as her condition was assessed and stabilized. Mark the resort Owner, then advised the beach on the Island of Panqaemotu that she would be headed for, so the Ambulance should make for that spot. Mike at Aquarium had everything under control very efficiently and would also make his way to the beach in his private vehicle as backup.
The Doctors on the beach, could use items from ICE’s comprehensive first aid equipment, so I returned to ICE , recovered the kits and sent then ashore, while I remained onboard to recover our Oxygen bottle and giving set. Before I could get them out, the Doctors decided on immediate evacuation and departed at approx 1750hrs with Kylie still in the Kayak, now onboard the resort boat and the two doctors in attendance. I continued relaying radio advice from ICE to Mike regarding the rendezvous and updating ETA’s etc. including notifying and updating next of Kin. I prepared ICE for departure to town. Kylie’s parents later confirmed Kylies blood group after checking with the local hospital in Australia. Via the Ch26 net other cruisers were on standby to offer blood.
Mike from Aquarium and the Ambulance arrived just as Kylie hit the beach and an efficient transfer took place around 1825hrs.. Kylie was still conscious and remained so through out. The guest doctors and resort staff accompanied Kylie to Hospital with the ambulance and conferred with the local doctors. She arrived at the hospital around 1850hrs. All were happy about the proposed treatment plans. The resort Doctors felt her treatment would be as good as and identical to what would be expected in New Zealand or Australia. The resort Doctors then contacted Kylies parents for an update and returned to Treasure Island.
At around 2030 hrs I made it to the hospital after mooring ICE. At around 2115hrs the hospital surgeon requested B+ Blood, so I sent out a call on Ch26 and we checked blood groups with friends at the hospital. We had a few responses and shortly after, Angelina from the yacht “La feiesta” agreed to be donor and headed to the hospital. Kylie went to the operating theater at 2230 hours. Two hours later Kylie emerged sedated. The local surgeon and team five others reported that the main wound on her buttock had been cleaned and stitched, and another on the front of the opposite leg dressed.. She will be in Hospital for at least a week. He stressed that she was very lucky which we all knew.
Before the operation Kylie described the events that happened. Before setting off from Pau for the return swim, they both discussed the risk profile specifically in relation to sharks. Kylie felt a bit uneasy but they both agreed that they were in the sharks environment, but it was what they both do and they would continue with the planned 1 mile swim home, as the risk was acceptable. Kylie was swimming approx 2 to 3 mtrs off the Kayak on the right side, aft while Kim paddled. They had cleared the outer reef areas and were now swimming over deep Blue water about 700mtrs from Pau island. She did not see the shark until it hit hard and she kicked and fought it off, then swam, lept, straight into the back of the kayak loosing her fin in the process. She did not look at the injury but told Kim who could not see it either but started paddling hard. Kylie did not move, but tried to call ICE. The Niefu port control heard her calls and asked if she needed help. She replied no, she was Ok, but had been bitten by a shark and was trying to call ICE. Another yacht then replied and asked Kylie to confirm she was OK and did not require assistance. Kylie forcefully advised NO she was OK , she had a Kayak and was making for ICE…meanwhile she kept calling ICE. She was in the Kayak for approx 15 minutes before we became aware of the emergency.
Kylie believes the shark was over 3 mtrs in length, but not certain of the type other than NOT a reef shark. It may have been a bull shark? The doctors have estimates the teeth to be about 25mm across with a bite height top to bottom of around 40 to 45 cm. Miraculously Kylie appears to have suffered no muscle or tendon injury and her vital blood veins were all missed. She is happy that she put on 6kg in the past few months from Jane’s cooking, as the fatty areas took the hit!..her words not mine!
A personal observation from me, in hindsight, as to why the shark may have attacked? It is humpback whale season here, with many new calves being born. The underwater “visual profile” of the blue/grey kayak at about 4mtrs long, with the forward paddler hitting the water alternately each side and then Kylie with her BIG free-diving fins, off the right back side of the kayak, could well look like an injured whale calf to a shark. It would appear as if it is struggling and separated from it’s mother and escort, possibly already having been attacked by other sharks. In that situation, a shark needs to move fast and whilst this is pure speculation, it may be plausible? There is nothing about this attack that should alter the way cruisers and snorkelers dive coral reefs or anybody goes whale swimming in Tonga. Swimming with a mother and calf in deep blue water, as a controlled group, with a trained guide, is NOT looking making you like an injured whale calf.
The response from the local community and businesses, officials and medical staff, ambulance drivers! Mark at Treasure island resort, Mike from the Aquarium restaurant and “yacht help Vavau” and the local cruisers net on Ch26, was totally effective , very helpful and honestly quite amazing….it made my job easier! so from all the crew on ICE..THANKS TO EVERYONE.
Finally Kylie and Kim are both committed conservationists, who love everything that is on and in the ocean. They have always considered it a special place. Kylie loves sharks and wants to save everyone of them from Finning and unnecessary slaughter. She ventures willingly amongst them, in their world and will continue to do so responsibly. She says a very special thanks to all and wants to get back in the water as soon as possible.