Woman survives harrowing shark attack by punching it in the head: ‘I won!’

Heather West, 42, was attacked by a lemon shark off the Florida Keys last month – and lived to tell the tale

Sheila Flynn
Saturday 19 February 2022 15:48
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Heather West was enjoying the water off the Florida Keys when she felt something clamp onto her foot; she thought it was one of her friends playing a practical joke.

It wasn’t.

It was a shark, and it wasn’t letting her go anytime soon. The 42-year-old, despite the shock, eventually realised what was happening and fought – and “won,” as she likes to say.

The incident happened last month when Ms West was snorkelling with friends near Dry Tortugas National Park, and she has posted a series of TikTok videos describing the horrifying experience – and her miraculous escape. The group had decided to head back to the land for food as the waters got choppy – but that was the least of Ms West’s worries, it turned out.

“I had this really bad vibe – and something in me said, ‘Get out,’” Ms West says on TikTok. “I was swimming parallel to the beach, so I immediately turned – and whenever I did, I felt something just like snatch my foot. And my brain couldn’t really comprehend what was going on – and I thought that, you know, one of the guys had grabbed my foot trying to scare me.”

It was almost instinct, however, when she realised that wasn’t the case. It was a lemon shark, and it wasn’t remotely close to letting her go.

“He just like rips me and rips me underneath the water – and immediately, whenever he started the yank, I immediately was like, ‘Oh s*** – this is a shark.’

“All I was thinking was, ‘No, that’s mine – you can’t have it.’ So I rolled over on my back, as I’m being pulled through the water and trying to kick him with my other foot – but I have a fin on, so I can’t really get the propulsion I need to really smack him in the face the way that I want to with my foot.”

Her adrenaline and determination kicked in as the shark continued its attack.

“When he ripped me the second time, I was p***ed off, because I knew that, if he got a third rip in there, I wasn’t going to have a foot left.”

She decided to “just start ... punching with both my fists”.

That’s when the shark let go – and when she made her way towards shore, bloody and battered, to her friends and terrified onlookers.

Ms West, however, was strangely thrilled.

“I look down and see that my foot’s still there, so I got really excited, and I started screaming. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I won! I won! I won! I can’t believe I won.’

“One of the guys was like, ‘What do you mean, you won? Have you seen your foot?’

“And I’m like, ‘Yeah – it’s still there.’”

She continues on TikTok: “I knew it was a battle for the foot – and one of us was gonna win, and one of us was gonna lose. And honestly, I didn’t expect that I was gonna be the winner of this.

‘I guess I had like a nic in my artery, because it was squirting blood, so they’re having to keep a lot of pressure on that and get me tied off’

“So I was pretty damn happy.”

Ms West may have been relieved, but the people on the beach were freaking out.

“I guess I had like a nick in my artery, because it was squirting blood, so they’re having to keep a lot of pressure on that and get me tied off,” she says, adding that witnesses were making a tourniquet out of towels and shirts.

She was transported via seaplane to Key West, where injured tendons required 20 stitches, the Miami Herald reported.

Ms West credits her survival to instinct, partially.

“The gut feeling, me listening to that and turning, if I had not turned, most likely it would’ve been my arm or my side,” she says on TikTok. “And surely I would’ve bled out in the amount of time it would’ve taken me to get back to Key West.”

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