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Shark attack survivor Keane Hayes, 13, speaks during a ceremony honoring him, Good Samaritans and first responders on Nov. 28 at Encinitas City Hall. Photo by James Wang
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Encinitas honors shark attack survivor, rescuers

ENCINITAS — Keane Webre-Hayes can joke and smile about the morning hours of Sept. 29. But in the water of Beacon’s Beach on that morning, his life hung in the balance after being bitten by a great white shark.

But thanks to the swift response of three Good Samaritans and first responders, the 13-year-old Encinitas boy is alive and headed toward recovery.

On Nov. 28, the city of Encinitas honored Keane and his rescuers with a proclamation for their bravery and life-saving efforts. The audience showered them with applause.

“Thank you Matthew, Andrew and Chad for being there and just kind of talking me through it, it really kept me calm,” Keane said in front of the packed council chambers. “And thank you to Andrew for being in the water with me when there was an 11-foot great white shark and it had just bitten me.”

Keane receives an award from Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear during a Nov. 28 ceremony in Encinitas. Photo by James Wang

Keane was referring to boat owner Chad Hammel, Oceanside Police Officer Matthew Ephron and off-duty lifeguard Andrew Helble, who happened to be in the water near Keane and his friends, who were lobster diving at the time of the incident, and brought Keane ashore where emergency response personnel went into action.

Helble attended the proclamation remotely via a conference call.

It was that swift action that kept the incident from being much worse, and highlights the very best of human nature, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said. 

“I think it’s important we are here tonight because it honors what are the best qualities in human nature,” Blakespear said. “When we selflessly give to help another even in the face of personal danger to ourselves, that is really the best we have of ourselves as humans.”

One of the first responders on the beach was Matthew Chavez, a paramedic who responded to the scene. He described the experience with one word: lucky.

“We got real lucky on the call, those calls sometimes don’t go well, but he had everything in his favor so things turned out great,” Chavez said. “It definitely caught me off guard.”

Chavez said hearing Keane refer to him and the others on the scene as heroes means a lot to him.

“We do our job every day and we never expect to hear things like that because it’s our job,” Chavez said. 

In addition to the first responders on the scene and the three kayakers, Keane thanked emergency personnel as a group for their selflessness. 

“They chose this as their job, they said, ‘I want to help people,’ it really didn’t choose them,” he said. “It means a lot that people want to do good.”

Since the attack, he has been showered with well wishes from celebrities and athletes. He said the highlights were meeting professional skateboarder Tony Hawk and Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer whose return to surfing after she lost her arm in a 2003 shark attack was recounted in the book and movie “Soul Surfer.”

Keane said that physical therapy has gone well and he is regaining the ability to use his right arm. He hasn’t returned to the water, but not because of anything psychological.

“I just haven’t regained full use of the arm yet, but I’ve been in the pool and am slowly working my way back to the ocean,” Keane said.