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Calif. shark attack survivor recalls fighting off animal

Leeanne Ericson punched the predator and dug her fingers into its eye as she was dragged below the waves

Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A surfer attacked by a shark earlier this year recalled punching the predator and digging her fingers into its eye as she was dragged below the waves off Southern California.

Leeanne Ericson told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” on Friday that she initially thought a curious seal was bumping the underside of her surfboard at San Onofre Beach near San Diego on a sunny day last April.

Suddenly she was knocked from the board into the water and a 10-foot great white chomped her leg.

“I felt it grab me and pull me down,” she said. “My only concern was my breathing.”

Ericson aggressively fought back as the juvenile shark gripped her right thigh and descended fast. She punched the creature and when she rammed her fingers into an eye, it “felt like I was digging out a cup of Jell-O,” she said.

Dusty Phillips, Ericson’s boyfriend, was in the water nearby when the attack happened. “It wasn’t a test bite. It wasn’t a curious bite. This was an attack bite to kill,” he said.

Phillips said he dove to find Ericson but the water was too murky.

The 35-year-old mother of three said she has no idea why the shark eventually let her go. “It could have been me hurting it,” Ericson said.

Or, Phillips added, that the animal “might have had a big enough chunk of her flesh.”

With the help of other surfers, Phillips managed to get his profusely bleeding girlfriend to shore, where she was induced into a medical coma in an ambulance and rushed by helicopter to a hospital.

After nine weeks in intensive care and eight operations, Ericson is recovering from the bite to her right thigh and backside that went down to the bone.

Her family has set up a crowd-funding site to help with medical bills. Despite having insurance, she said the costs have put her in a deep financial hole.

“My antibiotics alone were like $36,000,” Ericson said.

Phillips has been back in the water. But he said there is still a long way to go before Ericson is physically and mentally ready to surf again.