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Shark attack, tsunami scare for two Victoria women vacationing in Maui

Oct 30 2012

Say this for Jane Gair and Janice Speller: They pack a lot into a day. The two Victoria women narrowly avoided a shark that attacked a woman off Maui Saturday afternoon. Then, they spent the evening racing to higher ground to escape a possible tsunami following the earthquake that rocked B.C. 

“It was,” Gair said, “just the worst, worst day.” 

The holiday had been uneventful to that point. Gair, 41, and Speller, 27, had been surfing in Maui for a week, when they decided, on their last full day, to go snorkelling at Makena Landing Beach Park near Kihei. 

Gair and Speller passed other snorkellers as they swam along the coast, never far from shore. 

Gair, a professor at the University of Victoria, said she was mostly looking in one direction, admiring the coral, but at one point she glanced the other way, and saw a shark within arm’s reach of her. 

“I was, like, face to face with the shark,” she said. “It was insane, absolutely insane. 

“Under water with the mask, I know that everything looks bigger and everything looks closer,” she said. “So, to me, it looked 20-feet [long].” 

Gair said her first reaction was: ‘Oh, cool. I should tell Janice.’ Then, my brain a millisecond later, said, ‘No, no, this is a shark. You’ve got to go.’ ”

She turned onto her back, pushed her flippers at the shark, and swam toward a rock outcropping. 

“I got there and started calling for Janice,” Gair said. “She said she could tell by my tone and what I was saying that something was wrong. But I didn’t want to tell her it was a shark, because I didn’t want her to thrash around.” 

Speller scrambled up beside Gair, and the two began trying to alert others. They spotted a man and a woman snorkelling in the shark’s direction, but their warnings went unheeded. That’s when Gair saw the shark leap out of the water and attack the woman.

“I thought she was dead. But then, somehow, she popped out of the water and she was screaming.”” 

The woman crawled out onto the rocks, covered in blood. Her husband and another man helped carry her to land, and Gair and Speller stayed with them until the ambulance arrived. The woman, who was from California, suffered deep gashes and puncture wounds to her thigh and hand but was treated in hospital. 

A few hours later, Gair and Speller were in their rented apartment when the tsunami sirens sounded.

The pair packed up again and headed upland to a gas station, where they waited for the all-clear  at 1:30 a.m.

“So that was our last full day in Maui,” Gair said. 

lkines@timescolonist.com

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