EXCLUSIVE: Shark attack victim describes terrifying encounter off Hawaii

EXCLUSIVE: Shark attack victim describes terrifying encounter off Hawaii

BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hawai'i Island man is sharing his incredible survival story for the first time after he was attacked by a tiger shark while spearfishing off the Kohala coast Sunday afternoon.

Laughing and smiling from his hospital bed, it's hard to believe just three days ago Braxton Rocha was bitten by a 13-foot tiger shark. When most people would have passed out from the pain, the 27-year-old Kohala man instead reached for his cell phone. 

"All I wanted to do was call my Mom. So I was trying to and I was like, 'This is crazy.' I looked at my phone and it was literally on 3% and I though the next best thing to do is take a video and upload it to Facebook so my whole family can know what happened, 'cause I can't call anybody my phone is going to die. So I just took the video, I just got attacked by a tiger shark. I filmed my leg and I was like, 'Brah, I love you cuz.' I thought I was going to die. That's all I wanted it to be was, I love everybody you know?" Rocha described as he started choking up. "And yeah, then my phone died," he added with a smile.

The video, which he posted to his Facebook and Instagram accounts, has quickly gone viral with thousands of shares and comments from all over the world. In it, Rocha explains he was attacked by a tiger shark and heading to the hospital as he films the gaping wound in his left leg. You can hear him say, "I love you Shann Boy," as the camera pans over to his friend who replies, "I love you too, my braddah", while he's bein loaded into the ambulance.

Rocha says he had no idea his video would have such an impact.

"I just thought that was literally my final moments. I just needed to let my best friend know that I love him and he had my back. He saved my life," Rocha explained.

Rocha and his high school classmate, Shannon Pasco, were spearfishing together on Sunday in a remote area off Upolu Point. 

Rocha says he and Pasco were actually planning to throw net that day, but when they got to the shoreline they changed their mind and decided to go diving. Both men say they've been spearfishing nearly all their life, but admit the water was murky and they shouldn't have gone out.

Instead, while they geared up, Rocha says he and Pasco started joking about sharks. He says the topic came up because of the large knife Pasco had attached to his weight belt.

"I was like, 'Hoooo, how's that knife?' And he was like, 'This is the Great White killer right here.' He was like, 'Brah, if I ever see a shark -- this is the one.' And I was like, 'Damn brah, that's one blade.' And we were joking around with each other and he was like, 'Why? What you would do if you seen one shark that big?' And I was like, 'Brah, I would love to see a shark that big.' That was the exact words that came out of my mouth. 'I would love to see a shark that big.' I was like, 'Because if that ever happened then the rest of my life is one breeze. I seen the scariest thing I could ever see,'" Rocha said.

The pair got into the water and say conditions quickly changed from calm to a stronger current but they decided to keep diving anyway. The men say it was their plan to stay within eye-shot of one another, but when Pasco's spear gun broke he moved a little closer to shore to use his three-prong instead, while Rocha went further out.

About 30 minutes into the dive, Rocha said he could no longer see Pasco and was about to make his way toward the coastline when a blur of stripes whizzed past him underwater and he recognized immediately that it was a tiger shark.

"It disappeared and I was backpedaling with my gun and I knew that I had to turn around to make any progress into shore. I started paddling hard and I started kicking hard and I already knew that if anything was going to set off the shark, this is what it's going to be is all the commotion in the water. So I started kicking paddling and I went to turn around one more time to see if I could get a view to see where she was and it was too late already -- her just jaws were wide open right in front of me. When you see on National Geographic, a shark going after a seal -- that's how she was coming for me. Like just -- full speed. And I just kind of balled up like that fetal position -- both of my legs were crunched up toward my chest, kinda crunched up and her head was probably like this big," Rocha said extending his arms. "It was massive and she was just right in front of me. I just put my hands on top of her nose to get her away from me, but she was pushing me back -- just cause her brute force. She was so big and she was pushing me back and I tried to get her off of me, away from me -- and that's when she sunk down onto my leg," Rocha described. 

"Everything was happening so fast and I just gave her a quick jab in the nose and she released my leg. It was just so surreal -- everything was happening so fast. I guess I immediately went into shock and my adrenaline was just pumping," Rocha said, explaining that he didn't even realize he was bitten at first. 

"After she released me and swam away, that's when all the blood just started gushing everywhere and I was like, 'Ho, this is bad. This is bad. I still had to swim into shore like 60 yards and so I just turned around. Thats when I finally kinda got scared. I was hoping and praying to God that she's not going to come back again," Rocha said.

Fueled by adrenaline, Rocha says he somehow managed to swim the 60 yards to shore.

"I kinda monk-sealed up the rocks, you know? And I'm sitting down looking at my leg like, 'I'm going to lose my leg. I'm going to lose my leg. This is the craziest thing ever. This is the gnarliest cut I've ever seen.' It looked like my leg got blown up from shrapnel in a war. It was crazy," Rocha described.

He dragged himself out of the water and was able to force himself to his feet and began screaming for Pasco to get out of the water.

"I seen Braxton on the shore and I couldn't make out what he was saying, but when you're in the ocean and somebody is screaming from shore – we all know most times what that means right?" said Pasco, who says he had climbed onto the reef and was standing on the tips of his fins looking for his friend when he heard screaming through the howling wind and crashing waves.

Pasco says he dove back into the water to make his way to shore when he spotted the tiger shark.

"She just went look like a brute. Looked like she was pregnant and hungry and cruising. Big. The biggest shark I've ever seen. I went from calm to panic real fast. I was expecting one cute white tip, but when I saw this submarine I was like, 'Ho crap,'" Pasco said.

The area the men were diving in is so isolated there was no cell service. They say it had started pouring and their truck was parked a quarter of a mile away.

"I just backpedaled and swam 30 yards, climbed up rocks, helped this guy up the rocks and I still gotta run a quarter of a mile to my truck, so I'm like dying," Pasco explained. "I'm like, 'God, please help me. Please, my friend is – don't let this happen, please.' I thought that my braddah was going to lose his leg or lose his life and I never like him lose neither. So I just went push myself. Just do it. I ran all the way to my truck, slipping and sliding and falling down," Pasco said.

Pasco says it took him at least ten attempts to reach 911. At that point he had loaded Rocha into his truck bed and used a towel as a tourniquet to try to stop the bleeding while he raced up to Hawi in hopes to meet the ambulance halfway.

Pasco's efforts paid off. EMT medics had already called for backup and Rocha was airlifted to North Hawai'i Community Hospital in Waimea. He says he was conscious the entire time.

"I don't like to fly -- that's my biggest fear. So they're flying me out and the weather is crappy, you know? So much turbulence in the helicopter and I'm freaking out and breathing hard and the EMTs are like, 'Brah, you need to calm down. Slow your breathing. And I was like, 'Brah, I hate to fly. I hate to fly. I was thinking in the back of my head, 'This is just great. I survive a shark attack and I'm going to go down in this helicopter,'" Rocha recalled with a laugh.

100 staples later, Rocha is already walking the leg that was mauled by a tiger shark – and says he's anxious to get back into the ocean.

"The way I look at it is I was in the wrong place, you know? That was my bad. It wasn’t the shark's bad. It was murky. There was no sun. It was dark. It was mistaken identity," Rocha said. "It doesn’t change the way I look at sharks or the ocean. I can’t wait to get back in the water and go swim with them again." 

"I still feel like I'm in a dream right now or a nightmare. None of this seems real. Never in a million years would I think I'd be attacked by a tiger shark. I see them all the time. I've never had one ever be aggressive with me. I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," said Rocha.

Rocha and Pasco say they've learned some very important lessons from their experience and they hope by sharing their story they can help prevent any further injuries.

If the element no look right, if Mother Nature is not giving it to you -- just don't do it. Don't fight it. Just stick with your gut instinct. No try to fight nature," said Pasco. Both he and Rocha said they felt something just wasn't right, but they got into the water anyway.

"I'm just glad that we're alive. I'm glad that Braxton is alive and that he kept his leg," Pasco said with a sigh of relief.

"Never go diving alone. Always have a partner. Stick to the plan. That’s the thing too, I went against the plan. We had a game plan set out and I went against that. Plus, I was getting weird vibes and I went against the vibes. Always got to follow your na’au, you know? Always got to follow your gut feeling," Rocha said. "Always have respect for the ocean. 

Rocha is still recovering at the hospital, but says his doctors tell him he'll likely be released by Friday.

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