- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

A couple who were viciously attacked by a shark off the coast of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina were Russian emigres spending the last hours of summer vacation with friends before heading back home and to school.
Natalia Slobonskaya, 23, and Sergei Zaloukaev, 28, were planning to return to the two-story town house they shared in Oakton later this week, before the attack on Monday evening.
"They were the sweetest people you would ever want to meet," said Joyce Roth, who lives next door to the couple.
Mr. Zaloukaev, who was planning to continue taking classes at George Mason University, died instantly when a shark attacked him. Miss Slobonskaya, a gymnast and doctoral-degree student at George Washington University, remained in critical but stable condition at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital last night. She lost her left foot and suffered wounds to her left hip and buttock, said Ann Keffer, a hospital spokeswoman.
"She just has a large dished-out area on her hip and buttocks that is about 12 inches in diameter," said Dr. Jeffrey Riblet, a trauma surgeon at the hospital.
He said the bites on her left side had gone "to the bone" and could affect her sciatic nerve, which controls motion in the leg.
As of last night, Miss Slobonskaya was being kept "heavily sedated" and was on a ventilator to help her breathe, but is expected to recover from her injuries, Ms. Keffer said.
The Pitt County medical examiner, who performed an autopsy on Mr. Zaloukaev yesterday morning, confirmed that he died from massive blood loss due to multiple shark bites, said Mary Doll, a public information officer with the National Park Service-Cape Hatteras National Seashore. He is the first person in North Carolina to be killed by a shark since 1957.
North Carolina officials are trying to determine what provoked the attack.
Officials with the National Park Service-Cape Hatteras National Seashore said yesterday they are confident that a shark, and not another marine animal, attacked the young couple. But officials are still trying to find out whether the couple may have been attacked by more than one shark.
"That is something we are absolutely going to pursue," Ms. Doll said. "The community here is just in a state of shock right now. We're just taking things one step at a time."
The Park Service yesterday conducted three fly-overs of the waters between Cape Henry in Chesapeake, Va., and Ocracoke Inlet to see whether there is an unusually high number of sharks in the waters.
Officials found no sharks in the waters between Cape Henry and Cape Hatteras, but did see about five sharks swimming in the waters just south of Cape Hatteras, about 15 miles south from where the couple was attacked, Ms. Doll said.
"These results show us that there is no excessive shark activity in the area," Ms. Doll said.
Monday's incident in North Carolina was the second deadly attack in the mid-Atlantic region over the Labor Day weekend. On Saturday, a 10-year-old boy was fatally attacked as he surfed in shallow waters near Virginia Beach, about 135 miles north of Cape Hatteras.
Mr. Zaloukaev and Miss Slobonskaya, who were vacationing with five other friends, were swimming 20 feet to 40 feet off shore, near a sand bar, shortly after 6 p.m. when the attack occurred, Ms. Doll said.
Witnesses said the couple was wading in water when both began to scream. The two tried to swim to shore before bystanders, who heard their screams, dragged them to shore and administered first aid until rescue workers arrived, Ms. Doll said.
Mr. Zaloukaev was still talking when he reached the shore, said Gary Harkin, of Columbus, Ohio, who helped the victims as they were brought out.
Mr. Harkin said he tried to put a tourniquet on the man's leg while his friend, Carolyn Richards, administered CPR.
"I did have a pulse on him twice, but I lost him," Miss Richards said.
Ms. Doll said no one on the beach saw anything in the water before the attack. But Pete Viele of Virginia Beach and his friend, Sue Bader, of Bethesda, said they saw a school of sharks from a sightseeing airplane they were in as it flew over the area at the time the attack was occurring below.
"It's freaky," Mr. Viele said.
Miss Bader said if she saw sharks, the others probably did and thought a warning should have been posted. The beaches in the national park don't have lifeguard stands; guards patrol the area using all-terrain vehicles.
"I don't care if it hurts tourism," Miss Bader said. "Let people know they are there so they can make their own choices."
Back home, neighbors of the young couple, who lived on Paddock Wood Court off Blake Lane since April 2000 when Mr. Zaloukaev bought the town house, were shocked to learn of the attack.
Mrs. Roth said neighbors didn't know much about the young couple, but she did say they were very nice and quiet people.
Miss Slobonskaya is a petite woman who practiced rhythmic gymnastics on her backyard deck. "She'd be out there twirling her ribbons," Mrs. Roth said. "She was really good at it. My daughter loved to watch her."
Mr. Zaloukaev was a "handsome" man who would wave to neighbors as he worked on his car, Mrs. Roth said.
Officials at the Embassy of the Russian Federation declined to disclose any personal information about the couple, including when they came to the United States and whether they were going to become American citizens. But officials did say the couple's families live in the area. "We've been in touch with the families and with investigators and we have asked everyone involved to keep us informed," said Yuri Zubarev, an embassy spokesman.
Sentara Hospital officials said yesterday Miss Slobonskaya's family was with her and have declined to give any media interviews. Mr. Zaloukaev's family could not be reached for comment.
The Outer Banks beaches will remain open until further notice.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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