RALEIGH — The father of a 17-year-old girl who was attacked by a shark off Fort Macon State Park earlier this month shared the dramatic story of how he rescued his daughter by punching the shark repeatedly until it let go.
Charlie Winter was in the water near his daughter, Paige, when he heard other teenagers swimming with them at Atlantic Beach shout, "Paige! Shark! Get her!" But when he looked in the water, he saw only a 5-foot trail of pink blood in the water.
Mr. Winter dove in and grabbed his daughter, pulling a shark up out of the water along with her.
"It was a big shark ... I immediately just started to hit it," he said at a press conference Friday. "I don't know how many times I punched it, but I hit it with everything I could and it let go."
Then the former paramedic ran for shore, applying pressure on his daughter's badly injured leg while the shark chased him "at arm's length," he said.
In the struggle, Mr. Winters added that his daughter had been attempting to pry open the shark's mouth with her hands. Afterward, he said she was calm and just kept repeating the word, "dad," as he carried her to safety.
"She's a tough little thing," he said with emotion in his voice.
Doctors said the teenager's left leg and two fingers on her left hand were amputated after what was likely a bull shark attack, based on tooth markings found on her bones. Mr. Winter said he saw two sharks in the water just after the attack, but doesn't know what types of sharks they were.
Attacks like this are rare, according to Eric Toschlog, chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at Vidant Medical Center. He was one of the doctors who treated Paige.
"I have not seen a wound of this severity, ever," Dr. Toschlog said, adding that there are usually only two or three attacks off North Carolina every year.
According to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida in Gainesville, a research organization that tracks shark bite reports worldwide, there were a total of 32 unprovoked shark attacks in the United States in 2018, making up 48% of the worldwide total. The number was down from 53 attacks in 2017.
Despite her injuries, doctors said Paige is in good spirits and should complete physical therapy and rehabilitation within six to 12 months. In a video shown at the conference, Paige said she wanted to use this incident to do something good for the environment and for sharks.
"Sharks are still good people and that's just kind of the truth, they're still so good and they're so cool," she said with a smile.
The June 2 incident was one of two shark attacks in North Carolina so far this month. A 19-year-old surfer said he was bitten on his foot last weekend.
Last year, North Carolina had three confirmed shark attacks, according to the International Shark Attack File.