Two people lost limbs in separate, successive shark attacks on Sunday in the waters off Oak Island, N.C.
Local officials announced that the first victim, a 12-year-old girl, was attacked late Sunday afternoon, while a 16-year-old boy was attacked in another incident less than two hours later. The Associated Press reports that the attacks happened approximately two miles apart.
“Both victims were reported to be about 20 yards offshore, in waist-deep water,” Oak Island Fire Chief Chris Anselmo said at a news conference Monday.
Both the young girl and teenage boy were airlifted to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, the Oak Island Fire and Rescue Department wrote in a Facebook update Monday. “As of last night, both victims were out of surgery and in stable condition,” according to the update.
“I’ve been here for 16 years and I’ve never had this,” Anselmo said in a phone interview with The Post on Monday. “This is new. … It’s just something that doesn’t happen.”
Martha Harlan, a spokeswoman for the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in North Carolina, said both victims had parts of their left arms amputated — below the elbow for the girl, and below the shoulder for the boy.
The girl also suffered lower-left-leg tissue damage, but Harlan said she has not heard that the leg needs amputation.
“Honestly they have a really long road ahead,” Brunswick County Emergency Services director Brian Watts said, according to the Associated Press.
The names of the victims were not released.
“It’s absolutely tragic, and we’re all feeling that,” Anselmo told The Post. “And our thoughts and prayers go out to both kids and their families.”
An Oak Island beach-goer, Steve Bouser, told the Star News Online that he saw the first attack unfold Sunday afternoon. He said he heard people yelling, “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 trying to help,” Bouser told the AP. “It was quite terrible.”
“It was so much like a scene from ‘Jaws,'” Bouser’s wife, Brenda, added, according to the AP.
Oak Island Town Manager Tim Holloman told The Washington Post in a phone interview Monday that a beach-goer 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.
Anselmo also called the bystanders who responded at the scene “extremely helpful.”
Holloman said authorities went out on ATVs on Sunday, trying to get people to leave the surrounding waters voluntarily. Officials also warned a neighboring community about the incidents, Holloman said. And Anselmo told The Post that there is “just no way for us to control” the closing of the beaches, which stretch for miles.
Town employees drove along beaches urging people to get out, but the instructions were voluntary and not mandatory. Holloman said officials are still researching whether they could legally force an evacuation if there were another attack.
Earlier Monday, Mayor Betty Wallace told The Associated Press that information was too spotty after Sunday’s first attack to justify immediately clearing the water, but that after the second attack, they did warn swimmers to get out.
Wallace told The Post in an email Monday that the local beaches were open.
“There are patrols along the beach encouraging people to stay only in shallow water if they decide to go into the water at all,” she wrote. “With +/- 20,000 visitors, it would be incredibly difficult if not impossible to totally close the beaches.”
Both Harlan and Holloman said shark attacks of this nature are uncommon.
“Oak Island is still a safe place; we’re monitoring the situation,” Holloman said, according to the Star News Online. “This is highly unusual.”
There have been three shark attacks in the area in the past week; a 13-year-old girl was attacked Thursday while boogie boarding in Ocean Isle Beach but sustained only minor injuries.
Harlan said that while she didn’t have exact figures regarding the number of attacks the hospital sees annually, most incidents are “usually very minor.”
“Shark attacks like these are very rare,” she said.
Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram said aerial and shore patrols will continue monitoring waters, according to WWAY.
George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told Star News Online that he has seen successive shark attacks like Sunday’s only twice before in his four decades of studying sharks: once in Florida 15 to 20 years ago, and once in Egypt three or four years ago.
According to the statistics compiled by the museum, North Carolina has seen 25 shark attacks since 2005 — none fatal.
This post has been updated.