The swimmer who survived a shark attack at Kehena Beach in Puna shared his experiences today.
Paul O’Leary from Mountain View was swimming in the nude in waters off Hawaii Island when he was attacked. His left foot was bitten by a shark.
O’Leary said all he was wearing was hand paddles and goggles. Earlier reports from DLNR said he was wearing swim fins.
He was swimming about 150 yards off shore in waters that were rough and murky.
O’Leary has been swimming at the “clothing optional beach” since moving to Hawaii two years ago from Taos, New Mexico.
He felt something scrape his foot, but didn’t realize it was a shark bite until he realized that he couldn’t kick. O’Leary never saw the shark.
“I had to swim in. I wasn’t going to stay in the water. I did the breaststroke because I couldn’t kick. I just had to get in. I was yelling ‘help’ as I was coming in,” O’Leary recalled.
O’Leary said that he didn’t feel any pain through the ordeal until he was in the emergency room.
Richard Dingman, a friend he had just met the previous day, said that he noticed O’Leary swiming “with his head up” and knew something wasn’t right.
Dingman knew there was a risk it could be a shark, but decided to swim out to see if O’Leary needed help.
Dingman said O’Leary was calm and said he had a cramp. Over the 10 years he’s been swimming at Kehena Beach, Dignman said had done rescues in the area before. However, because they were swimming against the current, it took about 20 minutes to get back to shore.
It was at that time that Dingman saw the extent of O’Leary’s injuries. He said the injuries were severe and he could see bone.
Dingman then ran up a hill to a call box to get help. The area is remote and there is no wireless phone coverage.
While Dingman was talking to emergency responders, he noticed a Pahoa firetruck and asked the 911 operator to ask them to circle back.
Dingman took the firefighter down to the beach, then ran back up to wait for the ambulance.
After stabilizing O’Leary, the group placed him in a tarp to bring him back to the main road.
O’Leary thanked the people that came to his rescue on Facebook. He said they put a tourniquet on his wound and kept pressure. He was thankful for everyone that came to his assistance.
He said the surgeon at Hilo Medical Center told him that he had two tendons lacerated and some nerve damage. O’Leary said his injuries are about three inches deep.
O’Leary works at the hospital as a medical laboratory scientist.
His left foot was also bandaged due to lacerations from being rescued on the rocky shore.
O’Leary said that he expects to recover from his injuries, and he plans to get back into the water.
During the interview, O’Leary mentioned that his sister, who lives on Kauai, also was bitten by a shark while surfing.
Records show that his sister, Kathleen Lunn, was attacked on Nov. 13, 1994 off Hanalei and suffered a two-inch laceration to her thigh.