“Oh my gosh, a shark bit me!”
Charles “C.J.” Wickersham yelled to six friends on a 25-
foot open fishing boat, which had been taken into the Gulf for a Saturday afternoon of sunning, swimming and spearfishing.
Connor Bystrom said he looked out to the water and saw Wickersham, 21, of Longboat Key. “There was a 10-foot pool of blood around him,” Bystrom, 22, of Holmes Beach, said.
He said he and others jumped into the water to pull Wickersham to the boat and they began emergency procedures to stop the flow of blood from the injured man’s leg — the bite was deep enough to expose the thigh bone and about 14 inches long from knee to hip.
Max Gazzo raced the boat back toward Anna Maria Island, where Manatee County Emergency Medical Services paramedics, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies, West Manatee Fire Rescue and a Bayflite helicopter would be waiting.
Two days after the emergency, Wickersham remained at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
He was expected to undergo a second surgery Sept. 26, after The Islander went to press.
Bystrom and others on the boat visited Wickersham in the hospital Sept. 25.
“We just talked about the incident and how crazy it was, and how lucky he is to be alive,” Bystrom said. “It was just a freak accident, just a rare freak accident.”
The incident Sept. 24 occurred on what began as an ordinary good-time day on the Gulf on the Bystrom family boat.
The group included Wickersham, Bystrom, Gazzo, Katie Mattas, Kiera Dunn, Oceanna Beard and Lee White.
Bystrom said the guys were spear fishing and having success with hogfish, while the girls were chatting and relaxing in float chairs.
At about 3:05 p.m., the boaters were about 6 miles offshore in the Gulf, where the water is about 40 feet deep. Some of the group were already in the boat, preparing to go back to shore.
That’s when the bull shark — estimates put its size at 9 to 11 feet — struck, when Wickersham yelled and when his friends rushed to his rescue.
Bystrom said his friend told them he felt a bump and, at first, thought one of the other guys was playing around.
“I never saw the shark,” Bystrom said. “I saw the commotion. I saw the panic. I saw the blood.”
Bystrom swam to Wickersham and he others pulled the injured man into the boat. They could see teeth marks, the flesh flapping and, in the open wound, exposed bone and severed arteries.
Bystrom said a tourniquet, fashioned from anchor rope, was wrapped around Wickersham’s leg and towels were applied as a compress. He said he put his friend’s leg in a bear hug to try to stem the bleeding.
“It was just instinct,” said Bystrom, who works for a veterinary surgeon in Sarasota. “When I saw the bleeding, I just knew we had to stop it.”
He said the group remained “as calm as we could” as Gazzo navigated the boat to the Rod & Reel Pier on the Island’s north end.
“We were wide open,” Bystrom said. “Just hauling butt.”
As Gazzo raced toward the pier, a ride that lasted less than 6 minutes, the group received guidance from a 911 telecommunicator.
Gazzo grounded the boat on the beach near the pier, where paramedics waited.
Wickersham was then rushed to an emergency medical helicopter at the Anna Maria Island Community Center. WMFR officials said he had suffered a substantial loss of blood, but that his vital signs were good.
Bystrom added that he returned to the spot in the Gulf where the shark bite occurred to retrieve Wickersham’s gear, including his spear gun, but someone had already picked it up. Anyone with information about the gear, or wishing to return it, can call The Islander at 941-778-7978.
The International Shark Attack File database at the Florida Museum of Natural History indicates that the shark bite was the fifth reported unprovoked attack in Manatee County since 1982.
Publisher Bonner Joy contributed to this report.
The group of seven friends spent the day boating, free diving and the guys were spear fishing while the gals relaxed in float chairs. Islander Photos: Kiera Dunn
The Manatee County Emergency Services ambulance met the boaters at the Rod & Reel Pier and transported C.J. Wickersham from there to the Anna Maria Island Communtiy Center, where they were met by Bayflite, who then took Wickersham to Bayfront Medical Trauma Center. Islander Photos: Jeannie Bystrom
Shark bystrom boat Connor Bystrom docks the family boat at his parents home in Holmes Beach following the incident offshore of Anna Maria in which his friend C.J. Wickersham was bit by an 11-foot-long bull shark. Islander Photo: Jeannie Bystrom