A firefighter saves his brothers from a shark attack

Full-time Taylor County, Florida, firefighter Rhett Willingham says he’s always been close to his sister, Addison Bethea. Growing up in the Panhandle, they spent countless days hunting, Hunting and exploring together. The two brothers also try to make time to collect scallops every summer, and Willingham says that since the season opens on July 1, Addison has been pestering him about going out…

Fishing scallops from the boat illustration
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My younger sister Addison and I love to go scallop fishing every summer, so we picked a day in early July and left from Keaton Beach in my boat. The scallop was great that day. We were swimming together, sharing a bag, and after a few hours of picking up scallops from the bottom, it was already half full.

diving illustration
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We were swimming back to my boat when suddenly I heard a cry. I stood in the shallows and turned around, but I couldn’t see Addison. I believed, She must be underwater catching another scallop.

Girl attacked by shark illustration
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I spun around again, and this time I saw her – with a big shark gnawing at her leg! It must be 8 or 9 feet tall. She was screaming and punching her nose, desperately trying to make her leave her. And blood was everywhere! It looked like it was boiling under her.

A man hits a shark illustration
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I swam right up to her and started punching, kneeling, and kicking the shark. Finally, let go.

Lifeguard swimming girl illustration
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But even when I caught her and swam on her back towards my boat, the shark stayed with us. It was as if he refused to give up! We were still in the water when a stranger stood next to us in his private ship. He saw what happened and helped me get her on board.

illustration tourniquet
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The first thing I did was grab his phone to call 911. As a county firefighter, I know our protocol. I also knew I had to stop the bleeding because Addison’s leg was in bad shape. I grabbed a thick rope to make a tourniquet. I wrapped it around her thigh, stomping on the severed femur as I pulled the rope as tightly as I could.

helicopter
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The sheriff’s deputy was waiting for us again at the dock. After the EMT placed a new tourniquet on Addison’s leg, she was flown by helicopter to a trauma center in Tallahassee. Doctors were unable to save her right leg after several surgeries, and had to amputate it above the knee. But she is recovering and is starting to walk again. This is the important thing.

You can read the full story on Addison’s rescue here. We publish real adventures. Email yours to THTM@outdoorlife.com.

This story originally ran on the issue of Immigration from the Outdoor Life. Read more OL+ stories.

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