Six-foot waves were breaking when Lucas Ransom and his longtime buddy Matthew Garcia arrived at Surf Beach west of Lompoc on Friday morning, reports LA Times.
No wind, glassy conditions and two friends agreed it was going to be a great session for Garcia on his surfboard and Ransom on his beat-up, red bodyboard.
Before they plunged into the chilly waters, Ransom pulled out his mobile phone. “You wouldn’t believe these waves, Mom. I can’t wait to get to them,” he told his mother, Candace Ransom, who told him to have fun and call afterward.
That was the last she heard from the 19-year-old son she described as ‘a fearless athlete with the sweetest heart.’
The two young men had been in the waves for about 45 minutes when a shark appeared out of nowhere and pulled Ransom under. There was no warning, Garcia said. The shark appeared to be about 18 to 20 feet long, he said.
Matthew Garcia was two feet away from Lucas, when the shark attacked, he said. The whole incident lasted seconds. “When the shark hit him, he just said, “Help me, dude!” He knew what was going on,” Mr Garcia said.
“It was very stealth,” he added. “You would have never known there was a shark in the water. It was really fast. You just saw a red wave and this water is blue – as blue as it could ever be – and it was just red, the whole wave.”
As huge waves broke over his head, Mr Garcia tried to find his friend in the surf but could not. He decided to get help, but turned around again as he was swimming to shore and saw Mr Ransom’s red bodyboard pop up.
Ransom’s left leg was ripped off at the pelvis, his parents said. Garcia tried to give him chest compressions as he pulled him to shore, but Ransom was bleeding profusely and died before they got there.
“He was just floating in the water. I flipped him over on his back and underhooked his arms. I was pressing on his chest and doing rescue breathing in the water,” Mr Garcia said. “He was just kind of lifeless, just dead weight.”
Witnesses told authorities that the young men were about 100 yards offshore when the attack occurred. Fire personnel from Vandenberg Air Force Base pronounced Ransom dead at the scene.
Sheriff’s deputies patrolled the coastline to search for Mr Ransom’s missing leg but were only able to recover the boogie board, which had a one-foot segment on the side bitten off.
The ocean was calm and beautiful before the attack, with large wave sets that the friends had been tracking all week as they moved down the West Coast from Alaska, Garcia said.
Authorities quickly closed Surf Beach and two other beaches nearby for at least 72 hours. Surf Beach is on Vandenberg’s 42 miles of coastline, but the public has access to it from California Highway 246.
Federal and state wildlife officials are working to identify the type of shark that attacked Ransom. A shark expert said Friday that, based on its behavior and Ransom’s injury, it most likely was a great white.
“It takes a shark of massive size and jaw to inflict that kind of injury,” said Andrew Nosal of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Great whites seek prey at the water’s surface and attack with enormous ferocity from underneath, Nosal said.
He also added that the silhouette of a surfer on a bodyboard looks a lot like a sea lion on the surface. After they bite, it’s too late. “It may be mistaken identity,” he said.
About 75% of fatal shark attacks are caused by great whites. Even so, attacks are exceedingly rare, Nosal said. The last fatality in California was in 2008, when a 17-foot shark killed a retired veterinarian who was swimming off Solana Beach. [via LA Times, Associated Press and Reuters]