A 12-year-old girl and teenage boy were in stable condition Monday and recovering after being bitten by sharks in separate attacks along the Brunswick County, N.C., coast on Sunday, authorities said Monday.
A 12-year-old girl lost her left arm below the elbow and suffered a leg injury about 4:40 p.m. Sunday afternoon near Ocean Crest Pier; then about an hour and 20 minutes later and 2 miles away, a shark bit off the left arm above the elbow of a 16-year-old boy. The Wilmington, N.C. Star News identified the girl as Kiersten Yow and the boy as Hunter Treschel.
In the first reported incident involving the girl, Mayor Betty Wallace of Oak Island posted on her Facebook page that the girl lost part of her left arm and may lose part of her left leg. The girl is from Asheboro, N.C. and was visiting family in the area from out of town. The boy is from Colorado Springs, Colo.
Steve Bouser and his wife were at the beach, just beginning a weeklong vacation on Sunday, when he said people began yelling, “Come in! Get out of the water! Get out of the water!”
“I saw someone carry this girl (out of the water) and people were swarming around and trying to help,” he said. “It was quite terrible.”
There was a lot of blood he said, and people were trying to apply makeshift tourniquets to stop the bleeding. He added that people were asking her questions to try to keep her conscious. It was “quite nightmarish,” he said.
“It was so much like a scene from Jaws,” his wife Brenda added.
Recordings of 911 calls released Monday include several people calling each attack in, some sounding nearly hysterical.
Most beachgoers near the spot alongside a fishing pier where the first victim was attacked were staying in very shallow water or on the sand Monday. Holly Helmig, 39, of Raleigh watched her 6-year-old son bobbing on a boogie board in shin-deep water instead of splashing in the waves farther out. Her 5-year-old daughter Zoe shoveled sand in a bucket next to her.
Both victims were flown by medical helicopters to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., where they underwent surgery and were listed in stable condition Monday, said Oak Island Fire Chief Chris Anselmo during a news conference Monday broadcast live on WBTW 13.
Surgeons amputated the girl’s left arm below her elbow, and she has tissue damage to her lower left leg. The boy’s left arm was removed below his left shoulder. Both were in good condition Monday at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, where Dr. Borden Hooks operated on both victims.
After the second attack, town employees drove along beaches urging people to get out, but the instructions were voluntary and not mandatory. The town has no ordinance authorizing officials to order the surf cleared even if sharks present a threat, Holloman said. As a result, they take their direction from a state law guaranteeing public access to beaches.
“There’s no way to stop people from going into the water. We can advise people to be careful and alert,” Anselmo said on Monday. “I would swim in the water today.”
Just four days earlier, a 13-year-old girl suffered small lacerations on her foot from a shark bite on Ocean Isle Beach, about 15 miles from Oak Island. Both towns are on barrier islands just off the coast.
Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith says the teenager suffered three or four small lacerations on her foot. The girl was in the water on a boogie board when she was attacked. A caller told dispatchers that a shark caught the teen's foot and also took a bite out of the board.
Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram said authorities saw a shark via a helicopter flight twice after the Sunday attacks,
“We spotted one shark estimated over 7-foot long between the location of the two bites,” Ingram said during the press conference. Officials were unable to identify what type of shark they saw swimming off the coast. It was also unclear if that shark was involved in the attacks or if the same shark was spotted twice by officials, Ingram said.
Officials credited the quick thinking of those people on the beach with saving the teens.
“The bystanders . . . started the process of stopping the bleeding that was the biggest concern with these patients was the blood loss and without that we would have had a different outcome,” Watts said.
Dispatchers in the 911 calls could be heard telling bystanders to hold pressure to the wounds with clean, dry cloth or towel.
According to the tracking website Ocearch Global Shark Tracker at Ocearch.org, none of the tagged sharks by the non-profit organization had surfaced near the area where the attacks occurred or along the Grand Strand recently.
There were only 72 unprovoked shark attacks on humans around the world in 2014, including 52 in the U.S., according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Three of them — all outside the U.S. — were fatal.
Shark researcher George Burgess, who oversees the database, said he’s aware of only two other multiple shark attacks on the same beach in one day. “It may be that there are big schools of fish out in the surf zone that are attracting the sharks,” he said.
Even if lifeguards were on duty, the amount of area closed and the duration of a closure is always a question, said Tom Gill, spokesman for the U.S. Lifesaving Association.
“At the end of the day, it’s the ocean,” he said. “It’s an uncontrolled environment, which is why we think lifeguards are so important.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or on Twitter @tonyaroot.
Ocean swimming tips from Tim Holland, Oak Island, N.C., town manager:
▪ Avoid fishing boats and anglers
▪ Don’t swim following heavy rains
▪ Avoid murky or dirty water
▪ Pay attention to your surroundings and watch for fish fleeing an area
▪ Partner with a buddy while swimming and stay alert