'I could feel its teeth in my ankle' Woman attacked by 6ft shark while snorkeling

A swimmer has told of how she punched a six-foot shark in the face during an attack and rescued her foot from being amputated.

Heather West, 42, was snorkelling with friends around Loggerhead Key at Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida when she had the terrifying experience.

The group were exploring Little Africa Reef when the sea became too choppy for them to snorkel, so they decided to head back to the beach for a picnic.

They swam in a single file line back to the shore, with Heather bringing up the rear.

Heather, who lives in a van and travels the US, was the last in the water when she approached a patch of sea grass which seemed to be floating in a strange manner.

She stopped and looked around before a ripple in the water convinced her something was not right.

Heather immediately started swimming for the shore, but felt a strong tug on her right foot.

She originally thought it was one of her friends trying to scare her, but a quick glance up showed them all waiting on the beach.

After the second, more forceful tug she realized what was going on.

She looked behind her to see a six foot lemon shark with its jaws clamped round her foot.

Heather, from, Houston, Texas, said: “I was really excited to explore Loggerhead with these guys I’d met traveling, as they were experienced snorkelers.

“When we got in everything was fine, but then the water became really rough and tidal so we decided to head back.

“That’s when I got a strange feeling that something was wrong, and funnily enough I felt the tug on my ankle.

“I originally thought one of the others was just being silly, but after the second pull I knew exactly what was happening.

“I turned on my back to see this huge beast with my foot in its mouth, so I instinctively started kicking it in the face with my other foot.

“It kept tugging and tugging, and I could feel its teeth in my ankle.

“I was wearing flippers and my kick wasn’t doing much damage, so I decided to lean forward and start punching it.

“I punched it in the face over and over again as hard as I possibly could, and after about 30 seconds it finally let go.

“For the next two minutes I was in complete shock and couldn’t swim, but by this point my friends had ran back in the water to help me.”

Fellow snorkelers Greg Haw, 65, Douge Chancy, 70, and Freeman Hobs, 74, re-entered the sea and managed to drag Heather to safety.

Heather’s foot had been completely mangled by the shark and needed medical attention as soon as possible.

Heather's shark please

The men then carried Heather inland to find help, but because they had traveled so far out to snorkel, there was nobody nearby.

Eventually they found two park rangers who were setting down rat traps on the beach who radioed nearby Fort Jefferson for assistance.

A speedboat from the fort came and collected Heather, but by this point she was losing a dangerous amount of blood.

They were forced to tie multiple tourniquets above her ankle to stop the bleeding, which Heather described as “like having chunks of flesh ripped from her leg.”

Heather said: “When I got to the shore I just started screaming ‘I won, I won’ because I realized that I still had my foot.

“In the water I was convinced he’d ask it off, so seeing it still there, even though it was completely mangled, was a huge relief.

“The adrenaline was coursing through me and I actually felt so proud that I’d genuinely fought off a shark.

“Thankfully the two park rangers were there to call for help, because if they weren’t we would have been completely on our own.

“The boat trip to Fort Jefferson was the worst bit of the whole experience, because the tourniquets they were tying to stop the bleeding were so excruciatingly painful.

“They were tying one after another until we eventually got there, by which point I was physically exhausted.”

When the group arrived, medical experts took one look at Heather’s foot and knew she needed hospital treatment.

Thankfully, a small plane was about to leave the fort, and Heather was instructed to board the aircraft.

She was flown an hour to nearby Key West where surgeons assessed the damage to her foot.

At first they felt Heather needed to be flown to Miami for plastic surgery, but a specialist doctor assessed the damage and decided stitches would be enough.

The damage to her tendons and ligaments has left her without full control of her right foot, but the doctor was able to save it from being amputated.

Heather said: “They were minutes away from flying me to Miami for plastic surgery, but in the end the doctor just folded the skin back down and sewed up my foot.

Heather's foot

“Now I have little control over my right foot and ankle because of ligament and tendon damage, but I’ve been told it could return over time.

“The whole experience was completely mental, and one that will stay with me forever.

“When I think back, I’m convinced that if I hadn’t of had that bad feeling and turned my body to start swimming to shore, it would have taken a chunk out of my torso.

“In that instance I would most likely have lost too much blood and died on that beach.

“It’s unusual for sharks to take one bite and then persistently try again even after feeling resistance.

“The same shark is said to have been sighted a few days earlier when it came right out on to the shore to try and hunt a pelican which is really unusual behaviour.

“I can only think the poor thing must have been starving, because it was trying to drown me and drag me out to sea.

“Despite all of this, I want the record to show that I love sharks, and don’t want to discourage people from getting in the water.

“As a matter of fact I’ll be right back in as soon as I heal up!”

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