'I was mauled by a nine-foot shark while swimming in the sea - my brother fought it off but my life was changed forever'

18 July 2023, 16:30

Addison Bethea lost her leg in the attack
Addison Bethea lost her leg in the attack. Picture: Social media

By Kit Heren

A teenager who was mauled by a shark while swimming in shallow waters off the coast was rescued by her brother, but lost her leg to the attack.

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Addison Bethea, 18, was looking for scallops in the sea in Florida last July when she felt a tugging on her leg.

She thought it was her brother Rhett Willingham - and was shocked when she turned around and saw it was a nine-foot bull shark.

The shark sank its teeth into her leg as Ms Bethea desperately tried to tear herself free from its jaws.

Speaking on a BBC documentary that airs this week, Ms Bethea described the attack. "I felt something grabbing me. I thought it was Rhett as it pulled me under because I didn’t feel any pain or anything," she said.

Read more: Shark kills and eats man in full view of beach at tourist resort, as victim cries out 'dad' to his helpless father watching on

Read more: Diver's 'head and shoulders ripped off' by great white shark in first fatal shark attack of 2023

Addison Bethea was attacked last July
Addison Bethea was attacked last July. Picture: Instagram

“But then it started kind of shaking me and that’s when I knew it was something else. 

"It started biting into my right thigh and I was gouging its eye to get it off me and then it started swimming away with me still in its mouth."

Her brother swam up and kicked at the shark until it went away.

Mr Willingham then fashioned a makeshift tourniquet to help save his sister's life.

He told the filmmakers: "I heard Addison yell and she surfaced and I immediately could see this tail, just slashing back and forth," he said.

Ms Bethea had her leg amputated above the knee
Ms Bethea had her leg amputated above the knee. Picture: Facebook

"I grabbed her and started hitting it to get it off."

He then pulled her into his boat, before a larger vessel picked them up and took them back to Keaton Beach, in Taylor County in north-west Florida.

They were met by emergency services, with Mr Willingham telling a police officer: "Dude it was huge and I literally had to pry it off her."

Ms Bethea is heard screaming "Help me” as her brother tells her: "We’re not losing you."

In the documentary, Ms Bethea recalls: “Rhett kept tapping me on my face and saying 'You’re going to be okay' and I said, ‘Okay’.  

Addison and Rhett
Addison and Rhett. Picture: Facebook

"You obviously just want to go to sleep because you’re in shock and keep passing out and losing a lot of blood."

She was airlifted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where surgeons worked on her to save her life.

Rhett says: “Once the burden of having to deal with that (saving Addison) was off me, I was like 'holy cow, that’s quite deep man.'"

Addison Bethea
Addison Bethea. Picture: Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare

His father Shane said: "The shark attacked Addison’s right leg, front quad muscle. It was completely annihilated. It was devastating, a nasty, nasty wound."

Ms Bethea had to have her leg amputated above the knee, and began walking on a walker the next day.

Shane added of his son: "If Rhett hadn’t been there, we would be at the funeral home instead of the hospital. That boy is the definition of a hero."