An American tourist was fatally mauled by a tiger shark while scuba diving on an island off the coast of Costa Rica, local authorities said Friday.
The woman, identified by her friends as 49-year-old Rohina Bhandari, a director at a New York City private equity firm, died after an early morning attack Thursday on Cocos Island National Park, more than 340 miles off the Costa Rican coast. Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy identified her in a statement only by her last name.
Bhandari was ascending to the surface at the Manuelita dive site when her 26-year-old diving guide noticed the shark, which he described as a female tiger shark. The guide, identified only by his last name Jiménez, tried to scare the shark off, but it was too late. The shark mauled Bhandari, leaving severe bites on both of her legs, the ministry said in the statement.
A boater at the surface helped repel the shark as it attacked Bhandari’s diving instructor. The guide sustained a shark bite on one of his legs but survived. A team of doctors on site treated Jiménez and confirmed the death of Bhandari, the ministry said.
Bhandari, a senior director at the Manhattan firm WL Ross & Co., was part of a group of 18 tourists visiting the island on a trip led by Undersea Hunter Group, a tourism company that organizes tours to Cocos Island National Park, according to Costa Rican newspaper La Nación.
Alan Steenstrup, the company’s sales manager, told the newspaper they are “in shock” about what happened and are communicating with Bhandari’s family and authorities.
According to officials at the Cocos Marine Conservation Area, the attack was an isolated one. In 2012, researchers visiting the island tagged five tiger sharks — two males and three females. The females were the longest, measuring at more than 13 feet. The sharks are most active at the diving sites in the afternoon and early morning hours, but had not presented a threat until Thursday, the ministry said.
Cocos Island National Park, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, is the only island in the tropical eastern Pacific with a tropical rainforest. The remote island is world famous for its diving, during which tourists can spot rays, tuna, dolphins, and about 14 species of sharks, including the whale shark and hammerhead shark, the ministry said.
Tiger sharks were not in the area for about 30 years and returned about a decade ago, La Nación reported.
Bhandari lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and was described by the New York Daily News as “a regular presence on the Manhattan charity circuit.”
She earned a Master of Science in Finance from George Washington University and had been working at the investment firm WL Ross & Co. since 2013, according to her LinkedIn page.
According to the Bangalore Mirror, Bhandari’s family originates from Bangalore, India. Her brother, a well physician, declined to comment to the Bangalore Mirror, saying only that the family was grieving. Bhandari’s friends in Bangalore told the newspaper she had been planning on visiting the city to celebrate her 50th birthday with friends later this month.
On Facebook and Twitter, Bhandari’s friends posted notes mourning her loss and expressing their shock at her death.
“Desperately sad to hear of the tragic, untimely passing of my dear friend,” Jon Benjamin wrote on Twitter. “Always generous & gregarious, she was a mainstay of my social life in NYC a decade ago, visited us in Chile and so kindly lent us her apartment in NYC in July this year.”
“One of a kind,” he added on Facebook. “I feel her loss intensely. RIP sweet Rohina.”
Other friends described her as loyal, adventurous and “tough as nails with her career goals.”
“Rohina was an adventurer and I had many with her,” a friend wrote on Facebook. “I’m confident that the next one will be even better. It’s a terrible loss for her friends of which there are many. Thinking of the good times. Lovely girl.”
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