A great white shark attacked and killed a Manhattan woman just 60 feet from the Maine coast as her daughter watched helplessly near their long-time summer home on Monday, according to state officials.
The woman, identified as 63-year-old Julie Dimperio Holowach, is a resident of Manhattan, New York City, and a former fashion executive who retired in 2016 after serving as the president of brands like Liz Claiborne and Kipling.
Holowach and her family own a property in Harpswell and visit every summer for four to five months, officials said. The small coastal town is known for its large seacoast and hundreds of small islands just a boat ride away.
Shark Confused Holowach for a Seal
Holowach was swimming about 20 yards offshore near Bailey Island on Monday afternoon with her daughter when a great white shark possibly confused her with a seal because of the wetsuit she was wearing and attacked her.
Nearby kayakers, a man and a woman, who witnessed something emerge from the water and knew something was wrong. They immediately rushed to Holowach and brought her severely injured body back to the shore, where emergency responders pronounced her dead. Her daughter escaped without any injuries.
"They [kayakers] happened to be right there at the scene. They were courageous enough to jump in and retrieve the victim," said Jeff Cooper, co-owner H2Outfitters on the island, which offers instruction, rentals and sales of kayaks.
Holowach Was Screaming for Help
Tom Whyte, who saw the attack from his office window, which overlooks the cove, said Holowach and her daughter were enjoying their swim moments before the attack.
"You could hear her giggling and laughing," Whyte said. "All of a sudden Julie just started screaming for help. And all of a sudden Julie went under. It looked like she was pulled under."
Whyte added that Holowach started flailing in the daughter while her daughter swam back to shore, dropped to her knees and started screaming for help. Another eyewitness said there was "a lot of blood in the water."
First Fatal Shark Attack in Maine's History
Authorities confirmed on Tuesday that a great white shark was responsible for the attack thanks to a tooth fragment recovered from the scene. The great whites can grow as long as 20 feet and weigh up to 5,000 pounds, although most are generally smaller but just as lethal.
Holowach's death is the first fatal shark attack reported in Maine's history. "It is the only confirmed fatality in Maine waters from a shark attack," Patrick Keliher, Commissioner of Maine's Department of Marine Resources, said in a statement Tuesday. The only other confirmed shark attack in the state happened 10 years ago in Eastport and involved a porbeagle, not a great white.
Keliher said that while such attacks don't happen often, people should still take precautions. He has urged swimmers and boaters to use caution near Bailey Island and to avoid swimming near schooling fish or seals. Large sharks prey on seals, which are common off the coast of Maine.