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Shark attack victim had 'the sweetest heart,' mom says

October 22, 2010 |  9:50 pm

Six-foot waves were breaking when Lucas Ransom and his longtime buddy Matthew Garcia arrived at Surf Beach west of Lompoc on Friday morning.

No wind, glassy conditions -- they agreed it was going to be a great session for Garcia on his surfboard and Ransom on his beat-up, red bodyboard.

Before they plunged into the chilly waters, Ransom pulled out his cellphone.

"You wouldn’t believe these waves, Mom. I can’t wait to get to them," he told Candace Ransom, who told him to have fun and call afterward.

That was the last she heard from the 19-year-old son she described as a fearless athlete with "the sweetest heart."

The two young men had been in the waves for about 45 minutes when a shark appeared out of nowhere and pulled Ransom under. There was no warning, Garcia said. The shark appeared to be about 18 to 20 feet long, he said.

Ransom looked at his friend a couple of feet away and said “Help me, dude,” before getting lost in the waves, Garcia said. "It was very stealth," he said. "You would have never known there was a shark in the water. It was all really quick."

Ransom’s left leg was ripped off at the pelvis, his parents said. Garcia tried to give him chest compressions as he pulled him to shore, but Ransom was bleeding profusely and died before they got there.

Witnesses told authorities that the young men were about 100 yards offshore when the attack occurred. Fire personnel from Vandenberg Air Force Base pronounced Ransom dead at the scene.

Authorities quickly closed Surf Beach and two other beaches nearby for at least 72 hours. Surf Beach is on Vandenberg’s 42 miles of coastline, but the public has access to it from California Highway 246.

Federal and state wildlife officials are working to identify the type of shark that attacked Ransom. A shark expert said Friday that, based on its behavior and Ransom’s injury, it most likely was a great white.

"It takes a shark of massive size and jaw to inflict that kind of injury," said Andrew Nosal of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Great whites seek prey at the water's surface and attack with enormous ferocity from underneath, Nosal said, adding that the silhouette of a surfer on a bodyboard looks a lot like a sea lion on the surface. After they bite, it's too late.

"It may be mistaken identity," he said.

About 75% of fatal shark attacks are caused by great whites. Even so, attacks are exceedingly rare, Nosal said. The last fatality in California was in 2008, when a 17-foot shark killed a retired veterinarian who was swimming off Solana Beach.

-- Steve Chawkins and Catherine Saillant