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Man killed in N.C. shark attack; woman hurt

Shark victim arrives in Virginia from the Outer Banks.  

AVON, North Carolina (CNN) -- A shark attacked a couple in waters off Cape Hatteras Monday evening, killing the man and critically injuring his 22-year-old girlfriend. It was the second fatal shark attack along the middle Atlantic coast over the Labor Day weekend.

The man and woman, from northern Virginia, were with five friends from the Washington area on holiday in the Outer Banks.

The two were swimming together near a sandbar about 20 feet from shore when they were attacked around 6 p.m., said Dorothy Toolan, a spokeswoman for Dare County Emergency Medical Services.

"They were coming in from the surf and were about 20 feet from the water's edge, according to witnesses," said Dr. Seaborn Blair, who was on call at an island medical center.

As they were wading in water that was not over their heads, both started screaming at once, witnesses told Blair.

Witnesses describe shark attack that killed boy in Virginia Beach. From affiliate WAVY-TV. (September 2)

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CNN's Mark Potter reports on a program that familiarizes people with the docile nurse sharks and demystify sharks in general (July 17)

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He said he had not spoken to any witnesses who claimed to have seen the attack itself. "It could have been more than one shark ... the attack was very fast," Blair said.

Alerted by the screams, bystanders and friends raced to aid the pair, dragging them from the water. The man had suffered massive injuries to his lower extremities, Blair said he was told; he had lost a lot of blood and his heart had stopped.

An emergency medical unit arrived within a few minutes and began performing CPR, but to no avail.

"He died quickly after his attack; his girlfriend was critically wounded. She has some massive injuries," Blair said.

The woman was taken by helicopter to Sentera Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia, where she was in critical but stable condition after surgery Monday night.

A doctor there said that although she lost "a fair amount of blood," he predicted she would recover.

Blair said the attack was an anomaly along the Outer Banks. "I've seen people who've been bit before by bringing sharks in on fishing lines, but I've never seen an attack in 11 years that I've been here," he said.

"I'd say the best word for it was gruesome," Blair said. "I mean it was violent. I mean, it looked bad, I mean, God a'mighty .. it's something I'll never forget, and certainly something I don't ever want to see again."

There had been no recent shark sightings in the area, Toolan said. "We do plan to do some flyovers early tomorrow morning to get the idea if there is some shark activity along our coastline," she told CNN.

The attack was the second fatality in the United States this year caused by shark bites.

The first one was a 10-year-old boy who was mauled Saturday evening as he surfed with his father and brothers on a sandbar in 4 feet of water about 50 yards off Virginia Beach, Virginia, which is about 135 miles north of Avon.

David Peltier, from Richmond, died hours after the attack despite the efforts of his father to fight off the shark. Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf said she spoke by phone to the boy's father, Richard Peltier, who dismissed praise of him as a hero.

"He is grieving heavily over the loss of his son. I told him we all thought of him as a hero for what he did to turn his son loose, but he said, 'It didn't work,'" Oberndorf told CNN.

She described what Peltier said happened just before the shark attacked.

"He said that the water was so clear, that he happened to glance down and notice the shark. He saw the fin, he saw the blue back of the shark, and he also was aware of what a shark looked like," Oberndorf said.

"He immediately called his boys to get back on their surfboards. He leaned over to pick David up, the 10-year-old, and before he could pull him all the way on the board, the shark had him."

David Peltier with his dad in this undated photo  

"They were not in an isolated or dangerous place," Oberndorf said. She said this was the first recorded shark attack on a swimmer in the city's history.

Witnesses said Peltier hit the shark over the head to try to get it to release his son.

"I mean you could actually see him fighting off the shark and sort of pushing the shark away and pulling the kid," one witness said.

"There were shark bites all along his leg. It also looked like the shark might have got him right inside the thigh. He lost a lot of blood. He had two brothers who also had their surfboards and they were just standing on the beach crying hysterically," the witness said.

The boy bled to death early Sunday because of a torn femoral artery, according to a statement released by the Virginia Beach police, citing the state medical examiner. David Peltier's funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday in Richmond, said his mother, Carol Miles.

"He probably told you a hundred times a day he loved you," Miles said. "Every time he would pass you, he would tell you, 'I love you.'"

James Peltier called his brother Richard a hero.

"My brother's hands, he got 12 stitches across his right hand from trying to pry the shark's mouth open, and he did everything he could do to get his son released from that shark," James Peltier said.

"My brother is a hero. No one knows how to deal with something like this. It's terrible. It's like a bad dream and nobody wants to be in it."

Members of the boy's family released a statement saying they "appreciate the expressions of concern, sympathy and support they have received from the community" and asking that prayers continue on their behalf.

Oberndorf said the city had set up a memorial fund to provide financial aid for the family.

"This is a young family of modest means. I'm sure they never thought they would be facing the type of medical bills as well as funeral costs for a young child," she said.

Lifeguards and police patrol boats searched the Virginia Beach area Monday for more sharks, although none has been spotted since Saturday. Beaches were open, but many visitors stayed on shore Monday.

"I'd just as soon keep my kids out of the water, and not take my chances," one woman told CNN. "I don't want to test fate in any way."

Maylin White, curator for the Virginia Marine Science Museum, said sharks typically found in Virginia Beach waters are small varieties, such as the sandbar, sand tiger and hammerhead.

Larger species, such as tiger and bull sharks, are rarely found, he said. White said he thought a sandbar shark could have been responsible for the attack, but that was not confirmed.

Fifty-one shark attacks, including those in the past three days, have been reported this year to the International Shark Attack File, based at the University of Florida. Forty of those were in the United States, 28 in Florida.

Only five shark attacks -- none of them fatal -- have been recorded in Virginia. The center covers data across the world on shark attacks since the mid-1500s.

Seventy-nine attacks were reported worldwide last year.

The two fatalities were the first from sharks in the United States this year. Another was reported in Brazil.

The total is far lower than the annual average of eight over the past decade, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File. He said this year's total probably would be lower than last year's as the summer comes to a close.

Burgess said sharks were overfished in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and they are slowly recovering.

"The saddest part of this story, outside of the boy's death, is that certain people [will use] this to manipulate their own goals based on this ... to go out and kill more sharks," he said.

• International Shark Attack File

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