Lifeguard Dan Lund had no idea that the kite surfer bobbing a quarter-mile off a Florida beach Wednesday afternoon was surrounded by sharks and bleeding.
He and other lifeguards on Hutchinson Island’s Stuart Beach thought the man’s equipment had simply malfunctioned. So Lund decided to paddle a rescue surfboard out through heavy waves and thick chop to help the kite surfer back to shore.
“I get to him, I’m probably within 20 yards or so from him, and there’s just a lot of blood in the water,” Lund told the Associated Press on Thursday.
The kite surfer, 38-year-old Stephen Schafer, was still conscious, but struggling. He called out to the lifeguard: “I got hit. I got hit by a shark.” Sharks were still there, circling.
Lund did not hesitate. He grabbed Schafer and pulled him and the kite onto his 12-foot rescue board and headed for shore.
Although Shafer later died of his wounds, Lund is being hailed as a hero by fellow rescue workers.
Rescuer surrounded by sharks
“He got to Mr. Schafer, he reassured him, and then he had to hold him physically on the board,” said Martin County Marine Safety Captain Ray Szefinski. “The sharks all that time were swimming around them and Dan has to have his hand in the water just paddling with one hand.”
Captain Szefinski said that if lifeguards had known it was a shark attack, they would have called for a zodiac boat rescue and a jet ski. But that would have taken too long, he said.
“This was no little deal,” Szefinski said. “Dan Lund went probably over 500 yards out in the ocean in real rough conditions with sharks swimming all around – it is almost like a miracle that he didn’t get hit.”
News of the fatal shark attack swept across the country, with shark experts frequently repeating how rare such incidents are. In fact, it was the first fatal shark attack in Martin County since records have been kept. The last fatal shark attack in Florida was five years ago.
Overall, there have been 14 fatal attacks in Florida since 1882, according to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. In addition, there have been 610 non-fatal attacks in Florida during the same period.
What kind of shark is still unclear
It is still unclear what species of shark was involved in the attack. Statistics show that most shark attacks in Florida involve four species, the bull shark, spinner shark, blacktip shark, and hammerhead shark. The great white shark is not common in Florida waters.
Stuart Beach is a public swimming area fronting on the Atlantic Ocean. The beach remained open on Thursday.
Officials said there were no shark sightings at Stuart Beach on Wednesday before the attack. But earlier in the week, Jensen Beach, a few miles north, was closed all day because of sharks.
“We have shark sightings year-round, so it is not an uncommon event to see sharks,” Szefinski said.
The captain says he advises anxious tourists that their chances are higher of being involved in a fatal car accident while driving to the beach than ending up in the jaws of a shark during an ocean swim.
Szefinski said Lund might have had a reason to hesitate when he saw the sharks circling Schafer. The lifeguard had, himself, been bitten by a shark while surfing several years ago.
The captain said even though Schafer died, Lund’s efforts were not in vain. “Here is a guy who didn’t make it, but at least he had contact with another human being – he didn’t die alone.”
Szefinski added, “When it comes right down to it, it is about one person helping another.”
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