Three years ago, California State Park peace officer Andrew Helbe was out in the water on a fall day, diving for lobster off the coast of Encinitas when he heard three words he’s likely never to forget: “I got bit!”
On Wednesday, Helbe was awarded a Medal of Valor by the Calfornia Governor’s Office for his quick thinking on Sept. 29, 2018, that helped to save the life of 13-year-old Keane Webre-Hayes, who was severely attacked by an 11-foot great white shark, ultimately requiring more than 1,000 stitches.
“With no regard for his own safety or life, Officer Helble went above and beyond the call of duty and the state of California takes great pride in presenting the Silver Medal of Valor to Department of Parks and Recreation State Park Peace Officer Andrew Helble,” the governor’s office said in a statement released Tuesday.
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Keane was also diving at Beacon’s Beach on the opening day of lobster season when the incident occurred. In the aftermath of the attack, the boy headed toward Helbe, who, with his brother-in-law and a friend, had brought a single-person kayak with them and were about 80 yards away from the boy.
While their friend paddled the kayak over, Helbe and his brother-in-law swam about 60 yards to reach the boy, who was trailing a large wake of blood. Helbe helped the boy onto the kayak, which Helbe then stabilized as his friend paddled to shore, all the while, witnesses said, while they were being menaced by the aggressive great white.
Helbe, who has been trained as an EMT, was able to use stem the boy’s bleeding and prevent the onset of shock during the trip to shore. The group were met on the beach by lifeguards and assisted with patient care, scene management and the landing of a medical transport hospital, according to the governor’s office.
Keane spent a week at Rady Children’s Hospital recovering from injuries to his face, neck, shoulder and back.
Keane’s mother, Ellie Hayes, who was on-shore and witnessed the entire incident, believes that, without assistance, he would have died before reaching the beach.
“It absolutely required courage for them to respond to this call and my son’s call for help and not swim away to save their own lives,” Hayes told the governor’s office. “And with the shark still in the area, they risked their lives to save my son. I’ll be forever grateful.”
After the attack, Andrew Nosal, a marine biologist with the University of San Diego, said based on the severity of the wounds and location of the bite, the attack was consistent with that of a great white shark.
Nosal added that it is extremely rare for anyone in the world to be bitten by a shark, let alone along the coast of California.
"Great white populations are increasing in Southern California and that's because they've been legally protected for the last couple of decades," Nosal said. "That's a good thing for our local ecosystem. At the same time, the human population has also grown here. That means more sharks at the beach but also more people at the beach."
In April 2017, a woman was attacked by a shark in the waters off San Onofre State Beach near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The last time a deadly shark occurred in San Diego County was in Solana Beach in 2008.