• 12-Year-Old Girl And 16-Year-Old Boy Both Lose Limbs In Separate Incidents

Written by  Nick McGregor

Monday, 6/15/15

Two North Carolina teenagers lost limbs yesterday in separate shark attacks in Oak Island, 30 minutes south of Wrighstville Beach. A 13-year-old girl from Asheboro lost her left arm below the elbow and suffered serious tissue damage to her lower left leg. That attack occurred just after 4:00 PM on Sunday, June 14th, near Ocean Crest Pier, a popular fishing destination. Less than two hours later, and only two miles away, 16-year-old Hunter Treschel, visiting from Colorado Springs, CO, lost his left arm below the shoulder in a separate attack. Both victims were swimming in waist-deep water about 20 yards offshore. The girl’s name has yet to be released; in a statement, Treschel’s mom said, “I would like to thank everyone who has cared for my son. From the people who saved him through their quick actions on the beach, to the transport crew, emergency department team, doctors, and staff here at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. I appreciate all their efforts.”

In the immediate wake of the attacks, both injuries were considered life-threatening, with witnesses describing both teenagers in shock. But officials credited the quick work of bystanders and first responders in minimizing blood loss and keeping both victims conscious and alert until they could be airlifted about 25 miles to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, where both on Monday were said to be in fair condition. Marie Hildreth, an off-duty EMT, was vacationing in Oak Island and rushed to help after hearing yells of, “Shark!” With the girl hemorrhaging, Hildreth applied tourniquets using a string from a boogie board and a string from a tent, she told CNN. Tracy Carnes, who was one of the first on-duty paramedics at the scene, credited those actions for helping to save the girl’s life. “The outpouring of help from the bystanders was amazing,” she told CNN. “The tourniquets were in place by the time I got there.”

Local investigators, besieged by questions about whether the attacks were carried out by the same shark, used boats and helicopters to monitor the water after the attacks and saw a 7-foot shark between where the incidents happened, Sheriff John Ingram said. On Thursday, a 13-year-old girl suffered small lacerations to her foot after being bitten near Ocean Isle Beach, 15 miles from Oak Island. Witnesses described the scene in Oak Island as much more chaotic than usual, though. “I saw someone carry this girl (out of the water), and people were swarming around and trying to help,” Steve Bouser, who was just beginning his weeklong vacation, told The Associated Press. “It was quite terrible.” Oak Island Town Manager Tim Holloman told The Washington Post on Monday that a beachgoer who was with the teenage boy helped in his rescue, fashioning a makeshift tourniquet after the attack. “He stopped the bleeding and he probably helped save that boy’s life, from what I understand,” Holloman said.

 Photo by Steve Bouser

Photo by Steve Bouser

Officials sent an ATV and people with megaphones to get everyone out of the water after the attacks, but Oak Island Mayor Betty Wallace told The Associated Press that the short time between attacks didn’t give city officials enough time to close down all of the town’s beaches; they were closed after the second attack, though. “Our local police ATVs and the sheriff’s boat and helicopter patrolled immediately after the second one, getting everyone out of the water,” Wallace told the AP. She added that even if the beach had closed after the first attack, the order might not have made it to the beach where the second victim was bitten in time. On Monday, Oak Island’s beaches were open, with local officials urging caution but admitting that it’s impossible to keep people out of the water. Brunswick County’s boat, Marine One, and helicopter, Air One, were seen patrolling the area throughout the morning.

Shark experts added that this kind of double attack is highly unusual and, without concrete evidence available, attributed it to a tiger or, more likely, an aggressive bull shark, which have serrated teeth specifically designed to tear through flesh and bone. “Having a series of injuries so close to each other in time and space makes this unusual,”George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History, told CNN. “Two in one day very close to each other suggests that there’s a focused problem. It might suggest a single shark has been involved. They may have interpreted the humans as being appropriate in size and behavior to give it a shot.” Burgess says he can only recount two previous instances in the four decades that he’s been studying sharks that attacks have occurred so closely together — once in Egypt and once in the Florida Panhandle.
Burgess told the Wilmington Star-News that “we’re talking about a larger, more powerful shark than we see in the average bites that occur along the Carolina coasts.” Surfers and fishermen know that most sharks spotted in the area are blacktip or spinner sharks, which live in the surf zone and regularly chase migrating fish. Bites from these sharks are normally quick and non-lethal, with sharks immediately letting go once they realize a splashing arm or leg isn’t a fish. “Sharks do not normally aim for humans as part of their normal eating routine,” Burgess said — which makes Sunday’s attacks so different. “These were bites that were very much intentional by sharks,” Burgess said, speculating about the possibility of a bull shark being responsible. Bull sharks are known to travel in lagoons, rivers, estuaries, and surf zones.

With local officials looking for the responsible shark, and passions swirling on land over what to do with it if it is caught, this tragic day could shake up the mood on East Coast beaches this summer — surf schools in the area will almost certainly be affected — and lead to bigger questions about what we as humans should expect when we spend time in natural marine habitats. “We’re not a sea creature, so we’re an invader or a visitor every time we visit the sea,” Burgess told the Wilmington Star-News. “It’s a wild world we’re visiting.”

But, as he added to CNN, shark attacks remain highly unusual — last year, only 72 were recorded worldwide, with just three of those being fatal. “Considering the billions of hours we spend in the sea,” he said, “it’s clear that shark attacks aren’t common.”

EasternSurf.com will continue to update this story as new information becomes available.

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