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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 4:04 p.m., Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Surfer dead after shark attack on Maui

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

A Maui surfer died today after he was bitten by a shark, the first confirmed shark-attack fatality in almost 12 years.

The victim, Willis McInnis, was a 57-year-old Kahana resident who was surfing at a break called S-Turns, about 300 yards offshore from Pohaku Park, said Maui police Capt. Charles Hirata. The attack occurred about 7:08 a.m.

Witnesses said McInnis was bitten on the right leg. He had severe cuts from his upper right thigh to mid-calf, Hirata said.

The bite was nearly 14 inches long, Hirata said.

Other surfers in the area helped McInnis to shore, but he died on the beach as paramedics tried to save him.

The surfer had just missed catching a wave and had turned to paddle out for another one when he was attacked, witnesses told police.

Two friends were paddling out to the popular surf spot when they heard McInnis call for help, said his friend, Curtis Kaiwi, 45. McInnis was unconscious, however, when Kaiwi and others dragged him up the beach.

Kaiwi said McInnis was the only surfer out at the time.

The spot is not known for sharks, but this morningís murky waters and 3- to 4-foot west swells are just the sort of conditions that prompt warnings from officials.

Jeremy Franks, director of guest activities at the nearby Noelani Condominium Resort, has surfed the area often without fear of being bitten. "Itís a local hangout," he said. "It isnít known as a shark hang-out. It is the first time I think it has ever happened."

State officials closed the beach a mile north and south of the attack area until at least noon tomorrow, said Russell Sparks, an education specialist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"We have lifeguards on jet skis and we have enforcement officers from DLNR out there on boats," he said. "We have people along the coastline taking a look."

It is not yet known what kind of shark attacked McInnis. Randy Honebrink, spokesman for the state Shark Task Force, said he suspected it was a tiger shark, given the fact that they have been responsible for numerous other bites throughout the state.

The last confirmed shark-attack fatality in the state was on Nov. 5, 1992, when bodyboarder Aaron Romento was bitten about 30 yards offshore of Kea'au Beach Park on O'ahu, Honebrink said. A shark estimated to be 10 to 12 feet long bit Romento on the right leg.

Advertiser staffer Christie Wilson contributed to this report. Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.