While swimming at a Florida beach, a young girl was pulled under by one of the world’s most aggressive sharks. Without hesitation, her big brother dove into the water, ready to give his life to fight the predator with his bare hands.
For 17-year-old Addison Bethea, life as a Florida teen was everything a girl could want. She could often be found at cheerleading practice, hanging out with friends, or exploring the beaches of Taylor County. Sadly, her love of the ocean would soon turn sinister.
Addison was enjoying soaking up the sun and hunting for scallops off the coast of Keaton Beach when an intense jolt of pain shot through her body. When she looked down into the 6-foot-deep water, she immediately knew what had happened.
“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 had been bitten by a 9-foot bull shark, one of the world’s most aggressive ocean predators. According to Shareably, the creature clamped down on her right thigh, instantly tearing deep into her flesh, turning the water around her into a cloud of murky red.
Having watched documentaries on surviving shark attacks, Addison used every defense she had been taught — punching the shark’s nose, gouging its eyes, and jabbing her fingers into its gills. She even grabbed its jaws and teeth, desperately trying to open its jaws and free her leg. Still, nothing worked. Instead, the shark continued biting all over her leg, severing a major artery. Addison believed she was going to die. Just then, a savior arrived.
Her brother, 22-year-old Rhett Willingham, dove into the water and swam straight toward the thrashing beast. With no other option, the protective big brother forced himself between Addison and the shark.
“She came back up and I saw, like, the blood and everything, and I saw the shark,” Rhett said. “So then I swam over there, grabbed her, and then pushed them all, kind of trying to separate them. And he just kept coming. So I grabbed her, swam backward and kicked him, and then yelled for help,” he added while trying to explain what he did during that very crucial moment.
Miraculously, his tenacity worked. The shark released Addison, and Rhett pulled her to a stranger’s boat nearby. As an emergency medical technician and firefighter, Rhett created a 4-foot tourniquet with the boat’s rope and used it to stop the bleeding. He also kept her awake, which ultimately saved her life.
Addison was airlifted to Tallahassee Memorial Health Care for emergency surgeries. Unfortunately, doctors were unable to save her right leg and were forced to amputate. However, her extensive injuries and trauma haven’t stopped her from excelling.
“She is a trouper but she has an extremely long road mentally and physically ahead of her,” her father, Shane Bethea, wrote on Facebook. “Keep us in your prayers as well because this is our baby girl.”
Addison received a custom-made prosthetic leg and has been unstoppable ever since. Of course, her speedy recovery was mostly due to her determination and attitude, which has kept her focused on regaining her former abilities.
“She was in good spirits and cracking jokes about beating up the shark,” her father said. “The first thing she asked for was a Wendy’s frosty.”
Addison Bethea is eternally grateful to her big brother for saving her life. Without his courage, she undoubtedly wouldn’t have been able to free herself from the deadly grip of the powerful shark.
Addison hasn’t allowed the attack or her injuries to stop her from returning to the ocean. Of course, she now takes extra precautions when entering the water and is using her testimony to warn others to be safe while enjoying Florida’s many beautiful beaches.