A quick-thinking father rushed to help his seriously injured son after a shark attack left him bleeding profusely from his limbs.
Armen Azatian and his 25-year-old son, Grigor, were enjoying an afternoon of spearfishing in the clear water off of Pebble Beach, California, when their peaceful weekend activity quickly plunged into chaos. The two experienced divers had been in the water more than an hour on November 24, when Grigor saw a 15-foot great white shark that swam toward him but quickly turned away. As he popped his head out of the water to find his father and warn him of the shark, the great white returned, and sunk its teeth deep into Grigor’s lower leg muscles and sliced his left arm and hands.
“I surfaced, and then I heard his scream, and I immediately understood something bad happened. It was just horrible,” Armen, 55, of Northridge, California, tells PEOPLE. “He was swimming and yelling loudly, and he jumped into the boat and as he laid there, he continued screaming—then he stopped. I realized it was a shark attack, there’s nothing else that could make that kind of response from him.”
As Armen surveyed his son’s injuries, he looked around and grabbed nearby supplies to make a tourniquet to control the bleeding from the gashes in Grigor’s leg. Armen cut the wetsuit from his son’s body to help with his breathing, then tried calling 911 from his cell phone. When he discovered it didn’t have any service, he tried his handheld radio, and that, too, failed to connect to emergency services. With this added frustration, Armen remained level-headed and quickly steered the boat to a nearby shore.
“I didn’t have the luxury to panic, I was trying to do everything possible to help my son,” he says. “I could have screamed with all my lungs, but it wouldn’t help. I was trying to be calm so I could help him as fast as I could.”
When Armen turned to his son to ask him how he was handling the pain, Grigor simply looked at his father and said, “I’m okay.” But by looking at his injuries, Armen knew his son was far from okay.
“I don’t ever remember him crying, maybe the last time was when he was 2 or 3 years old. He would never tell you that he wasn’t doing well. He has very strong character,” Armen says of his son. “When I heard him yelling and screaming, it was like lightning striking my head—and even now, it’s still stuck in my head. I realized something catastrophic had happened to my son.”
Once they reached the beach, Armen called out to two nearby men for help. The men, two off-duty Monterey County sheriff’s deputies, gathered equipment from their vehicle to make a proper tourniquet on Grigor as they waited for paramedics to arrive.
Grigor then underwent two hours of surgery at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas.
“I was waiting outside, there was a ton of questions in my mind—how much tissue was lost? Would he be able to keep his leg?” Armen says. “It was the longest waiting time in my entire life.”
Armen felt a wave of relief when doctors told him his son was free of any artery or nerve damage.
Armen expects to bring his son home on Thursday, and while Grigor is in “good spirits,” he is expected to have an extended recovery process.
“It is supposed to be a long recovery period, I don’t know how much function he will lose in his leg, hopefully not that much,” Armen says. “In time, hopefully, he will gain back a majority of his function.”
In the week since the attack, Armen says he has received phone calls from people all over the world who expressed their support. He says he appreciates all of them, and it helps the family feel they are not alone.
Armen hopes he will soon be able to return to the same spot with his son for another day of spearfishing, something they have done for years.
“He is doing much better, and I’m doing okay,” he says. “I see my son is doing better and that is the most important thing for me. He’s alive, he survived this ordeal.”