By Jake Howard

On Saturday afternoon, April 30, at approximately 6 p.m., 36-year-old Leeanne Ericson was bitten by a shark while swimming at San Onofre State Beach. At the time of the incident, she was in the water at Church beach in front of the Camp Pendleton campground with a small group of friends.

Wearing a wetsuit and swim fins, she bobbed alongside her boyfriend, who was surfing, when she was pulled underwater and momentarily disappeared.

Ericson’s boyfriend turned to catch a wave, but before he could start paddling he heard her scream.

A pack of sharks was photographed on Sunday afternoon near Capistrano Beach. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Larmand
A pack of sharks was photographed on Sunday afternoon near Capistrano Beach. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Larmand

“She was gone, so he dived under to try and find her and couldn’t find her,” the victim’s step-father, Mark Leidle, explained to a local NBC affiliate. “He came up, and the shark’s tail was sloshing in the water, and she popped up and he grabbed her and put her on the board.”

Multiple sources, including Ericson’s boyfriend, have reported that there was a California Sea Lion in the immediate vicinity.

“It’s believed that at the time a shark was chasing a sea lion. The sea lion evaded the shark and instead of biting the sea lion, it’s believed the shark mistakenly struck the victim,” said a State Parks public safety official who was on the scene but was not authorized to speak on the record. “It could have been a case of mistaken identity. She was floating in the water in a black wetsuit and fins and the shark may have confused the two.”

Other people on the shore said they witnessed the incident.

“At first, I wasn’t sure what was happening when I saw a group of people helping this woman in through the surf,” said San Clemente’s Hunter Robinson, who was on the beach with a group of friends getting ready to go surf when the incident occurred. “I heard ‘shark’ and just started running out to help.”

A group of surfers helped get Ericson in through the surf line to the rescuers sprinting across the rocks to help.

“It was low tide, and she was probably in the worst place possible place,” continued Robinson.

Miraculously, the bite reportedly missed Ericson’s femoral artery. If the artery had been severed, there’s a strong possibility she would have died before reaching the beach.

The city of San Clemente closed its beaches following a shark attack at San Onofre State Beach on Saturday. Photo: Eric Heinz
The city of San Clemente closed its beaches following a shark attack at San Onofre State Beach on Saturday. Photo: Eric Heinz

“We put her on a surfboard and tried to keep it really low to the ground in case she fell off,” Robinson said. “A friend of mine became an EMT in January, so we applied a tourniquet to her hip to try and slow the bleeding down. She said she was having trouble breathing.”

On the beach, rescuers were met by lifeguard and emergency personnel. They did the best to control the bleeding and treat the victim for signs of shock. Ericson was then airlifted to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla for further treatment.

Lifeguards were quick to sound the alarm.

“It was surreal. We heard the lifeguard down the beach. At first, it was hard to make out what he was saying, but I managed to hear the words ‘shark attack,’” said area surfer George Trim, who was suiting up with his girlfriend at the time. “The lifeguard then pulled up in front of us and made the announcement. Everyone was in disbelief at first. Then we all realized it might be someone we know, so it was pretty scary.”

Doctors at Scripps placed Ericson in a medically induced coma to stabilize her condition. Massive blood loss and fears of infection and secondary drowning made her situation extremely volatile. Forty-eight hours after the incident, her condition had somewhat stabilized, but, obviously, Ericson is facing an uphill battle.

“It tore her right back leg from her glute to her knee. The doctors also say that she drowned when the shark pulled her under,” reads the message on a GoFundMe page set up to help with Ericson’s medical expenses. “She’s now in Scripps Memorial Hospital fighting for her life. She is a single mom with three young children who depend on her. She has a long road ahead with several surgeries to go. I don’t know how much this will cost, but she’s going to need all the help she can get.”

Immediately following the incident, California State Park authorities closed the surrounding waters two miles north and south of Church. By Sunday morning, people were already dismissing lifeguards’ stern warnings and surfing at Trestles and San Onofre, which is under the jurisdiction of State Park officials. But at Church, which is guarded by military personnel, it was clear that nobody would be allowed into the water through Wednesday.

The victim’s boyfriend has speculated that the shark was approximately 10 feet long, which would make it larger than the 6- to 8-foot juveniles that have been spotted in the area in recent weeks and months. Last month there were two different incidents where a Great White was seen breeching at Trestles on’s streaming web camera. Days after the attack, aerial footage was taken of a number of sharks in San Clemente and Capo Beach. Additionally, authorities recently towed a dead whale offshore, which may be contributing to the sudden uptick in shark activity.

The last shark attack in Orange County came in June 2016 when a woman was bitten while swimming off the beach at Corona del Mar. She suffered a large bite across her torso but survived. A swimmer was fatally attacked in Solana Beach in 2012.


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comments (2)

  • As of today, there are several attacks on humans by the gang of sharks known as the Great White gang. They have hit my three strikes window. I’m killing them before they kill me/us.

    Anyone interested in shark hunting?


    Good sized power boat with engine hoist in the stern.

    Shotgun 12 gauge
    Shells (non leaded to protect the environment)


    Sharks are the bottom feeder of the food chain…they won’t know they are dead

    Wanna see GW’s up close? Swim in the Farallons or off Guadalupe Island

    Better get your socal up closes now…because they will be gone by the end of summer

  • Who’s next? Summer is just around the corner and the waters will be packed with summertime swimmers, body boarders, surfers, summer camps and Junior Lifeguards. It was thought that the Great Whites were endangered and only a few existed in the OC but since this article we have seen 10-20 in Long Beach near the shore, 1- 10 in Huntington Beach, 2-5 at Capo Beach, 1-2 at San Clemente Pier and almost a daily sighting at Trestles beaches were people are requested out of the water as a common occurrence. We continue to make excuses and pretend to think what a man eating animal is thinking or why they attack. It is obvious with this explosion of GW and the increase sized that their will soon be a need for more and larger food sources which will most likely be humans and possibly for loved one. Don’t get me wrong, sharks are an important part of our oceans and I don’t think the massive slaughter for finning is correct but I also think we have other species that do the same for the environment. We continually talk about the food chain and the GW’s position but we are part of that chain as well and its time something is done to reduce the sharks that come within our coastline for feeding. Here me out for one more moment, all I here about is the man in the gray suit but yet those same people don’t have a problem eliminating Coyotes and bears when their are in their neighborhood, trash cans, pools or eat fee fee. You would think we need to send in the National Guard, its even all over the news. But little is being done for the safety of our coastal community, your kids, etc. Hell we are only reactive and even then don’t eliminate the problem. I’ve only spoke of the public safety aspect but just wait until we see what the financial ramifications become with loss of tourism, business sales and lawsuits for not protecting society from a known threat. It’s time to wake up before summer. Thanks for listening and be safe.

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