Florida man jumps in water to save sister’s life during shark attack, officials say

The victim, a 17-year-old woman, is recovering in an area hospital

(From left) Rhett Willingham and his sister, Addison Bethea. (Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare - TMH)

KEATON BEACH, Fla. – A Florida man is being hailed a hero after he rescued his 17-year-old sister from an aggressive shark at an area beach, according to authorities.

Taylor County sheriff’s deputies and first responders were called to Keaton Beach on Friday after Addison Bethea, of Perry, Fla. was bitten by a shark while scalloping.

The shark, which was nine-feet-long, was roaming in water that was five feet deep when it became aggressive and bit Addison in the leg.

Addison’s brother, Rhett Willingham, who is a Firefighter/EMT in Taylor County, jumped into the water and beat the shark until his sister was free, according to deputies.

Rhett and other area boaters nearby worked together to tie a tourniquet to control the bleeding until help arrived.

Addison was later airlifted to a trauma center at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, according to a Facebook post from the hospital.

The hospital said she has “devastating damage to the soft tissue in her right leg.” However, she has been stabilized and has undergone emergency surgery.

Addison will undergo a second surgery Saturday, July 2, to “further investigate the extent of the damage” and to see what other treatment options are available to save her leg, the hospital said.

“Addison has a long journey to recovery, but she was in good spirits today, surrounded by her family in Tallahassee Memorial’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit,” the hospital said Friday. “Addison’s family would like to thank their community in Taylor County and everyone who has reached out offering their prayers and support during this difficult time.”

Deputies are reminding area residents to be “alert” and “vigilant” when spending time at area beaches.

They urge beachgoers to never swim alone, to not enter the water near fisherman and to avoid sandbars, as those areas are commonly visited by sharks.

Swimmers should also avoid large schools of fish and erratic movements while in water.

About the Author:

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.