Brother dives into water and fights off 9 feet long shark to free sister from its jaws

A 17-year-old girl who suffered a shark attack at a Florida beach is alive today—thanks to her fighting instincts and her brother’s quick actions.

Addison Bethea had been scalloping in 5 foot deep water near Grassy Island. She was just off Keaton Beach. When a shark bit her.

“And the next thing I know something latches onto my leg and I was like that’s not right. And then I look and it’s a big old shark,” the teen told Good Morning America.


Addison remembered from watching Animal Planet that you’re supposed to punch sharks in the nose in case of an attack, but she couldn’t get around to the beast’s nose the way it bit her. She tried to fight the beast with her naked hands and pull it off her leg.

Once he saw the blood, Addison’s brother, Rhett Willingham, jumped in the water to help her.

Rhett Willingham and Addison Bethea in the hospital

“She came back up and I saw, like, the blood and everything, and I saw the shark,” he said. “So then I swam over there, grabbed her, and then pushed them all, kind of trying to separate them. He kept coming back. So I grabbed her, swam backwards and kicked him and then yelled for help.”

Rhett (22 years old), a Taylor County firefighter and emergency medical technician, beat and kicked his shark nonstop in an attempt to free his sister. After she was free, Rhett grabbed her and put her on his boat.

A nearby boater who saw them in distress offered to help, and Rhett transferred Addison to the stranger’s boat.

To control the bleeding, he made an 8-foot tourniquet using a boat rope. He wrapped it around Rhetts right upper leg. Rhett called 911 to have an ambulance sent to her, before he could use the boat to return on land.

Rhett Willingham

Addison sustained severe injuries and was airlifted 80 miles to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. She was initially listed in critical condition. She received emergency surgery and was stabilized. Unfortunately, her right leg suffered severe damage.

“The shark attacked her right leg, front quad muscle was completely annihilated,” Addison’s dad, Shane, said. “It was devastating, a nasty, nasty wound. The vascular surgeon took the vein from the left leg and turned it into an artery for the right leg to get blood flow.”

Doctors want to avoid removing her leg from her hip. Surgeons will also try to preserve enough tissue from her lower leg to allow prosthetics to fit.

“That she is even alive is the number one thing!” Shane said.

Addison Bethea

Despite the terror that she has just experienced, Addison is still positive. She was also visited by her friends in the ICU.

“She woke up and was communicating to us through typing on her phone. She was in good spirits and cracking jokes about beating up the shark,” Shane wrote in a Facebook post.

The first thing Addison asked for was a Frosty from Wendy’s.

Already, the teen has been scheduled for a second operation to assess the extent of the injury and determine the best treatment options to save her leg.

Shane Bethea and Addison Bethea

According to the sheriff’s office, it’s unclear what type of shark attacked Addison, but it was described as approximately 9 feet long.

They also sent safety reminders to all swimmers and scallopers in this area.

“Swimmers and scallopers are cautioned to be alert, vigilant, and practice shark safety,” the sheriff’s office said.

“Some rules to follow are: never swim alone, do not enter the water near fishermen, avoid areas such as sandbars (where sharks like to congregate), do not swim near large schools of fish, and avoid erratic movements while in the water.”

To help with Addison’s medical bills, you can mail a check with “Addison Bethea” in the memo to the Buckeye Community Federal Credit Union, 1825 S. Jefferson St., Perry, Florida, 32348.

Click the video below from NBC News for more information. 

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