A teen girl lost her leg after a shark attack in the waters of a popular Florida beach, police said. Addison Bethea, 17 was scalloping in just five-foot deep water when a shark suddenly attacked her. Luckily, her brother Rhett Willingham, 22, was close by and he jumped in and beat the animal off her.
According to the sheriff's office, Bethea's injuries were so serious that she had to be airlifted to a hospital in Tallahassee, located about 80 miles to the northwest of Keaton Beach. Bethea had surgery and is expected to survive the attack but she lost one of her legs, Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett told CBS News.
The incident took place around 3 pm on Thursday, 75 miles outside of Tallahassee, at Keaton Beach in northwest Florida. Bethea was scalloping near Glassy Island in water that was just about 5 feet deep when she was attacked by a shark, according to the Taylor County Sheriff's Office.
It is unclear what kind of shark it was but it was estimated to be 9 feet long. Luckily Beathea's relatives were there who noticed the attack and tried to help the teen. The girl's 22-year-old brother, however, didn't wait for help and swam into the water in a panic and attacked the shark, forcing it to let go of the bleeding girl.
"A family member reportedly jumped in the water and beat the shark until the juvenile was free," the Taylor County Sheriff's Office said in a statement posted to Facebook.
"It's a tragedy, what's happened," Sheriff Wayne Padgett told WCTV.
The critically injured girl was attended to by emergency personnel on the beach before being airlifted about 80 miles to a hospital in Tallahassee.
She underwent surgery at around six o'clock and, according to officials, lost a portion of her leg. Her survival is anticipated, according to WCTV.
"Rhett was just like tapping me and the something latches onto my leg. And I was like, "That's not Rhett". I look and there's this big old shark,' Addison told WTXL.
"I remembered from watching animal planet you're supposed to punch them in the nose or something - but I couldn't get around to his nose the way he bit me," she explained.
Police said that Bethea was lucky to have survived the attack as her family members were nearby and without waiting for help jumped into the water to beat the shark off. She was swimming in the ocean in his brother Rhett's boat about a mile and a half offshore when something suddenly struck her in the back of the thigh, her father, Shane Addison, 46, told the Daily Mail.
"Bethea thought her brother was just playing around until a 9-foot shark latched onto her thigh and she started screaming, and there was blood everywhere," he said.
Willingham began pounding relentlessly on the shark in an effort to free his sister while his daughter struggled to remove the shark from her leg. He grabbed her after she was freed from the shark's jaws and brought her over to his boat. A random stranger saw the couple's distress and took them in his boat.
After putting his sister on the stranger's boat, Willingham stopped the bleeding by wrapping a 4-foot tourniquet around her right upper leg.
When they returned to land, Willingham called for an ambulance, and she was flown about 80 miles to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. She underwent the surgery there and her leg had to be amputated.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Taylor County Sheriff's Office issued a cautionary warning to swimmers, encouraging kids to never swim alone and to avoid making rapid movements in the water.
Shark attacks are common in the Sunshine State, which account for 40% of all bites worldwide.
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File, shark attacks globally increased in 2021 after three straight years of reduction. However, the reduced numbers may have been due to lockdowns and limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, a 62-year-old man "major injuries to his stomach and leg" at Lovers Point Beach in Monterey Bay, California, located in Pacific Grove, north of the city of Monterey. The shark attacked the man, who has been named as Steve Bruemmer, at 11 am.
He was taken urgently to Natividad Medical Center, where it was discovered that neither his arteries nor his internal organs had been harmed.