Armen Azatian was surfacing from a spearfishing dive in Monterey Bay when he heard a bloodcurdling scream.
It was his 25-year-old son, who had just fought off what he said was a great white shark that ripped into his thigh and lower leg.
The elder Azatian didn’t witness the Friday attack, but realized immediately something catastrophic had happened — his son had never cried since he was a baby.
“It was like lightning struck my head and it was cracking,” Armen Azatian of Northridge said, as he recalled the attack and its aftermath on Sunday while his son underwent a second surgery to repair his badly damaged leg.
“It was horrifying; his muscles were torn apart,” said Azatian, a psychiatrist who worked for a year as a surgery intern but had never seen anything as gruesome.
“I didn’t have that luxury to panic, to scream and be emotional,” he said. “I had to concentrate and do everything possible to help my son.”
Shark attacks, especially by great whites, are extremely uncommon and rarely fatal. From 1926 to roughly January of this year, 120 people have been attacked by sharks off the California coast, according to the International Shark Attack File, which documents incidents across the globe. In Monterey County, there were at least 11 unprovoked attacks before Friday.
Grigor Azatian, a UC-Irvine grad and computer science student, is expected to recover, although the extent of lasting damage to his leg is still uncertain.
Since his early teens, Grigor Azatian has been spearfishing with his dad, who taught him and his younger brother to swim at age 2. Dad and sons spearfish three or four weekends a month, mostly in Southern California, but also visit Monterey several times a year. This time Armen and Grigor had traveled, in advance of a family wedding, and spent Thursday spearfishing off shore from the picturesque Lone Cypress Tree. They returned Friday to an area near Stillwater Cove. Armen had no luck, but Grigor snagged two nice-sized lingcod and a cabezon, then directed his dad to his fishing spot.
While his dad went off in search of prey, Grigor took photos with an underwater camera, then dove in again with his spear. It was then he saw the great white — and, he told his dad, the shark saw him and appeared to swim away.
Grigor surfaced to warn his father of the shark, and while he scanned the water waiting for his dad to surface, the shark returned from behind and attacked.
“The shark grabbed him and didn’t let him go, and took at least two bites” — mid-thigh and below the knee, Armen Azatian said his son told him. “He tried to fight with the shark. I don’t think he could do much, maybe pushing, moving his legs.” Grigor had lost track of his spear, and couldn’t reach his knife, which was strapped to the leg near the shark’s mouth. But he punched the shark’s face and kicked. At one point, the creature’s nose rose above the water, and he looked into its left eye.
He managed to free himself, screaming, then swam about 20 yards to the dinghy. His father surfaced about 30 yards away and reached the boat shortly after.
Laying with his mangled leg in the boat, Grigor asked that his constricting wetsuit be cut open — then directed his father in how to undo the lock on his knife.
“He was very calm,” Dr. Azatian said. “He just said he cannot breathe well.” His dad grabbed a float line and wrapped a tourniquet around his son’s leg.
“I was just trying to keep calm to help him somehow.”
But if the humans were astonishingly collected in their response, their devices were not cooperating. Armen Azatian’s iPhone balked when he pressed 911, telling him “call dismissed.” A brand-new marine radio displayed the proper channel but emitted no sound. Grigor recommended they motor their Zodiac in to Pebble Beach, about a 10-minute ride away.
Along the way, Azatian asked his son, “How’s the pain?”
“And he would say, ‘It’s OK’,” he recalled. “I see it’s not OK. The whole right leg is torn apart and bloody.”
At the pier, they shouted to fishermen on the pier to call 911, and heard that authorities already had been alerted. Shortly after beaching their boat, they were met by two off-duty sheriff deputies, one trained in emergency medicine, who began first aid. Soon paramedics arrived, then whisked Grigor Azatian to Natividad Medical Center in Salinas.
There he underwent a two-hour surgery.
“That was the longest waiting time in my entire life,” Armen Azatian said. “It was so horrible.”
A surgeon emerged and said he was guardedly optimistic, and that Grigor had not suffered great tissue loss. One of his muscles, the long, thin sartorius that runs down the thigh, remains at risk.
Despite the severe wounds, Azatian contemplates how much worse it could have been.
“That shark might have dragged him down,” he said. Those sharp teeth might have hit a major artery, or taken a bigger hunk of muscle. A bite that grazed his arm might have gone deeper.
The second surgery Sunday was successful, Azatian said, and another will be performed later this week.
“I have my son and he’s alive,” he said. “That’s the best outcome I could imagine. I’m so grateful.”
source: daily news