Paramedic tells of fight to save shark attack victim Laeticia


As a journalist at the Esperance Express newspaper, I have spoken to community paramedic Paul Gaughan many times in the year I have worked in this scenic Western Australian coastal town 700 kilometres south-east of Perth.

I've interviewed him about all sorts of issues and incidents around the region.

But it was still a shock to suddenly see him on Monday afternoon, standing over motionless Laeticia Brouwer at the back of an ambulance pumping her chest in a desperate attempt to save the life of the 17-year-old surfer.

Under grey skies, with the beach looking far from its usual idyllic turquoise water and pristine white sand, Esperance's off-road ambulance and a convoy of other four-wheel-drives had just driven off the beach.

In the middle of a chaotic, traumatic, heartbreaking scene in the beach car park, my eyes were fixed on Mr Gaughan, the St John Ambulance paramedic: he was focused and composed.

When he initially took the call about a shark attack about 4pm on Easter Monday, Mr Gaughan's heart sank.

Ms Brouwer had just been pulled from the water at a surfing spot known as Kelp Beds on nearby Wylie Bay Beach.

"I got the call and heard that it was a shark attack, I just got in my vehicle and went straight away," Mr Gaughan said.

"There wasn't a lot of details apart from the fact that the patient wasn't breathing and was unconscious.

"That's probably the worst possible details you can hear with any job."

Especially when you've been in the same harrowing situation before.

Mr Gaughan was on the beach in October 2014 after surfer Sean Pollard was attacked by two great white sharks at the same popular surf break.

Despite severe injuries, Mr Pollard managed to swim up to 100 metres towards shore. He ended up losing his left arm and right hand.

Images of Mr Gaughan and other emergency services personnel trying to save Laeticia Brouwer's life appeared around the world this week.

"I was just focused on the task at hand," Mr Gaughan said when asked if the 2014 episode on the same beach ran through his mind as he worked on Ms Brouwer on Monday.

"We were working against really difficult circumstances," he said of her severe leg injuries.

"The people on the scene did everything possible to effect a good outcome. It really gave the young girl every possible chance under such dire circumstances."

Ms Brouwer had been surfing with her father when she was dragged under by a shark, as her mother and two sisters watched helplessly from the shore.

An off-duty nurse was one of the first on the scene and applied first aid on the beach.

The family, from near Mandurah south of Perth, had been holidaying in Esperance for the Easter long weekend.

"We are terribly heartbroken and saddened by this tragic accident," her uncle Steve Evans said as he thanked emergency service workers.

"We can take comfort that Laeticia died doing something that she loved," he said.

"The ocean was her and her family's passion. Surfing was something she treasured doing with her Dad and her sisters."

The death of Ms Brouwer, the 15th person killed by a shark in Western Australia since 2000, has sparked a political debate over the culling of sharks.

The state's new Labor state government has said drum lines would no longer be dropped to catch dangerous sharks following fatalities.

"We made it clear in opposition that we don't see the merit in automatically deploying drum lines because they don't actually make our beaches any safer," Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said.

"We want to focus on promoting individual shark deterrents which can actually provide genuine protection for the people most at risk."

At a Senate committee hearing into shark mitigation held in Perth on Thursday, Surf Life Saving Western Australia general manager Chris Peck said 4600 people had been cleared from the water at Perth beaches after shark warnings over the past two years.

"Our lifeguards have cleared thousands of people from the water??? lives have been saved," Mr Peck said.

But most shark attacks did not occur on the state's 16 patrolled beaches, he said.

This story Paramedic tells of fight to save shark attack victim Laeticia first appeared on WA Today.