Remembering Laeticia: Esperance shark attack, emergency response

“You are trying your hardest but there is little or no positive light at the end of the tunnel,” St John Ambulance community paramedic Paul Gaughan said.

As news news spread, on Monday, April 17 2017, of a shark attack at Kelp Beds, east of Wylie Bay, emergency services rushed to the scene, performing under intense pressure, but were ultimately unable to save the life of 17 year-old Laeticia Brouwer.

Mr Gaughan said he realised, given the time that had already passed and the severity of the patient’s wounds, the chances of saving the teenager were evaporating and had probably gone.

“It was a difficult job in the sense that the person did not have a heartbeat,” he said.

“It takes a period of time getting there, and the circumstances are so traumatic, and then you have a distance to go back to the hospital as well.

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Mr Gaughan said when he received the call he needed to be prepared for anything and treated it like any other callout.

“You just never know exactly what you are going to be met with,” he said.

“Sometime injuries are a lot worse, sometimes injuries are not as bad as what the original information tells you.

“You just keep an open mind and then when you arrive on scene you treat the presenting problem and manage the priorities.”

Esperance teacher Russell Palmer said he responded to the shark attack wearing two volunteer ‘hats’.

“The first call came in from the police force for sea rescue and we immediately dispatched the boat out into that area,” he said.

“But then we got information that Laeticia had actually been recovered to the beach.

“So then SES responded as well to assist in anyway we could with the ambulance.

“On the beach the ambulance sometimes needs support in a four wheel drive capacity so we were there for that if needed.”

Callout: St John Ambulance community paramedic Paul Gaughan. Photo: Jake Dietsch.

Callout: St John Ambulance community paramedic Paul Gaughan. Photo: Jake Dietsch.

Mr Palmer said both the SES and Volunteer Marine Rescue served ‘purely in a support role’ to the police and St John Ambulance personnel.

Mr Gaughan said there were others on the scene who assisted both before and after he arrived.

“There was a nurse right there at the scene who performed CPR which was terrific because she was somebody outside the family who could come in with an objective approach, do what needed to be done and take charge,” he said.

“There were a number of people who helped and did what they could.

“It was obviously traumatic for them as well.”

It was very personal for me because I actually met Laeticia about three hours prior.

Esperance Police sergeant Todd Pender was appointed as a family liaison officer and has maintained contact with the Brouwer family over the past year.

“I speak directly to the family and they can ring me and they have done over the past 12 months when they have got a question with something that needed to be clarified,” he said.

“It was very personal for me because I actually met Laeticia about three hours prior.

“It is a tragic set of circumstances that has occurred.

“It is very difficult for the family to try and manage and they did a wonderful job, they are a sensational family.” 

Response: Police, ambulance and SES workers were all on the scene when Laeticia Brouwer was attacked by a shark. Photo: Caitlyn Rintoul.

Response: Police, ambulance and SES workers were all on the scene when Laeticia Brouwer was attacked by a shark. Photo: Caitlyn Rintoul.

Mr Palmer said the shark attack was another example of the prompt response time volunteer emergency services in Esperance demonstrate.

“Our response time for any of these situations is pretty amazing when you consider that all of our [SES and Marine Rescue] members and most of the members of St John are volunteers,” he said.

“They have to drop what they are doing at the time be it for work, family or anything in their lives to respond.

“They actually don’t know what the call is coming in for a lot of the time so they have to be extremely flexible, extremely versatile and extremely resilient.”

Mr Palmer said the attack further stressed on him the emotional and mental pressures professional paramedics and police officers experience on a regular basis.

“It makes me think even more for the likes of Paul Gaughan who has to deal with this raw tragedy more frequently than me or my members,” he said.

Want to read more about shark safety in WA? Click on our related links above to see recent coverage from our journalists Caitlyn Rintoul and Jake Dietsch