My name is Jonathan Hernandez. I am the private captain of a large center console boat. On June 12th I started a trip in Clearwater, Fl.  that would take us to Boca Grande, Key West, Fort Lauderdale, and finally to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. On the 13th, the boys dove all day on our way down to Boca Grande. We had planned to tarpon fish the following morning, but after hearing that the tarpon bite had been off we decided to head to Key West a day early and continue diving. The next morning we loaded up and dove our way south. Later that evening we landed in Key West and parked the boat at A&B Marina. We spent the next three days scuba diving around the Dry Tortugas, Rebecca Shoal, and some local spots near Key West. After diving on the 17th, I noticed that I had pipes breaking in the tower. Knowing that we had a 7-day Bahamas trip coming up, we made the decision to take the boat from Key West to Palm Beach the following morning to get the tower fixed.
June 18th was my 28th birthday and I got to spend it on the water with my father. It was a great run; nice and calm with clear skies. After dropping the boat off at Palm Beach Towers, I got a hotel and gathered up some last minute supplies for our trip. I picked the boat up the next evening on the 19th and took it back to Fort Lauderdale to get fuel, ice and chum and to meet up with my boss. On June 20th, I got off the big boat at 5:30 a.m. and crashed in a bean bag on the center console. After a little shut eye I headed out the inlet and pointed the boat toward our meeting point, which was approximately 50 miles northeast from the inlet. I picked up my divers, spun the boat around and went to Bimini to clear customs. After two hours in Bimini waiting in line, we were clear to continue our trip and start spearing.
We dove locally around Bimini before making our way to Spanish Cay. We pulled in after dark and started having a couple beers on one of the other boats. I used this time to re-rig all the Headhunter pole spears with new slip tips, injector rods, and bands. On June 21st, I woke up early, had some coffee and breakfast and made my way to the dock where I filleted some fish and prepped the boat for the day. Eleven of us piled on the boat and were excited to get in the water and shoot some dinner. On the way out I continued to rig pole spears and organize gear. We started diving a shallow area in about 20 feet of water with lots of rock piles and coral heads surrounded by turtle grass. The guys had shot a few hogfish, the water was crystal clear, and it was super hot topside. Since we had so many people with us that day including another captain and two mates from other boats, I decided to get in for 20 minutes to see what I could find. I worked an area of rocks with one of the guys and then began to look for another head and some more fish. After swimming across a lot of grass, I found three big piles of coral and heads that had a lot of life on them. I also noticed that there were several large Bermuda chubs swimming around that area. Looking back on previous trips and tips, I decided that would be a good place to start looking for a cave where I might find some grouper or large snapper.
Almost right away I spotted a large female hogfish. I made a drop on her and she spooked into a nearby ledge. I proceeded to make a drop to place a shot, and then made a second drop to pull the hog out of the deep hole. Once I surfaced, I knifed the fish one time in the head, removed it from the slip tip and called the boat over to grab the fish. As the boat was on its way over, I put my head back in the water to locate a fish for the other guys.
I remember it being so relaxing to finally be back in the Bahamas diving and then without warning I was slammed from behind so hard I thought the boat had run me over. The impact was so strong, it’s a feeling that I will never forget. I immediately looked to my left side where I felt the impact and all I could see was the body of a shark right in my face. I thought to myself, “I did not just get attacked by a shark.” I quickly went into full defense mode, shoving and punching the shark off from me as I kicked backwards away from it. The shark then spun 180 degrees and made his second pass at me. All I could see was white water, thrashing, and his fins coming out of the water. I landed another solid punch on the shark as I was kicking away, fighting for my life.
As my head dipped back into the water, I caught a brief glimpse of a shark swimming away at full speed, my fish sinking, and my calf hanging and gushing bright red blood into the water . The front of my leg also had a hole in it with deep lacerations. It only took seconds and it was over as fast as it began. I held my calf in place as I swam the last 15 feet to the side of the boat telling them I had been hit by a shark. The tuna door was already open on the port side and the captain put the boat right next to me. I handed up my polespear, my last piece of defense in case the shark came back for more. I then pulled myself into the boat while giving a few big kicks. With the adrenaline on full blast I ripped off all my dive gear and called for a tourniquet immediately.
They started to wrap my leg with towels, shirts, and rash guards, anything they could find to start putting pressure on the wound to slow the bleeding. Seconds later, they had two weight belts ready as I pointed out where they needed to be placed to be most effective. After they put the two weight belts around my thigh above the knee, I was still bleeding through the towels and shirts placed on the wound. The captain grabbed our tow rope and started wrapping it around my leg just above the second weight belt. I told one of the mates to cut the rope off the handle and give it to the captain to use as leverage and start twisting. He twisted the tourniquet till my foot turned blue and it appeared to have slowed the bleeding almost completely. Every single time the tourniquet was twisted tighter I screamed in agony. The pressure now on my leg felt like I had 20,000 pounds of weight sitting on it. The pain was unreal.
Just before this trip I had taken an oxygen provider course and an emergency first response course to better prepare myself for the possibility of a serious accident. I never thought that what I learned in those classes would be put to immediate use to save my own life. I got cut short on my boat and trip preparation when the dates to take the boys diving between the 12th and 17th showed up on the calendar. I had what we needed but I wanted to change some things about how I had it set up to be most efficient.
On the boat that day, we all worked together to control the situation and stabilize my leg and stop the rapid blood loss. Hauling ass at over 70 miles per hour, we were on our way to meet an ambulance when they instructed us to go to Treasure Cay instead of Spanish Cay. The back of the boat looked as if someone had been murdered. There was a puddle of blood under my leg, the transom was red, the white engine cowlings and all the guys helping stabilize me were all splattered in blood. These guys were unfazed and did everything they could to help. I had one guy holding my foot over his shoulder keeping it elevated, one guy making calls back and forth with the medical crew on land, one guy holding the injured area and the tourniquets, and a couple guys coming in and out grabbing my hand for me to squeeze and encouraging me to hang in there.
I found myself at a point in an unusually calm demeanor and asked for my cell phone to call my dad and tell him what happened. He didn’t answer, I then called my mom who picked up on the second ring. I calmly asked to talk to Dad to avoid freaking her out as much as possible. My Dad answered, “Hey buddy, what’s up?” I told him I had bad news and that a shark had attacked me. I let him know that I had tourniquets in place, and that the guys would keep him updated as to where we were going and what the game plan was.
Each minute seemed like an hour and I had lost so much blood already I was starting to feel the symptoms of shock setting in. I fought the whole time to stay conscious and push through the pain of the shark bite as well as the immense pain and pressure of the tourniquets. I did well for a while, but the closer we got to the dock the more my body started to shut down. By this time, my left leg that got bit was completely lifeless and numb, although I could feel every bit of pressure building and the pain growing as the tourniquet was doing its job. The numbness then started flowing into my right leg. After a little while longer my wrists started to curl over and my fingers locked up like I was having a seizure. The inability to move my hands and feel my arms was starting to concern me. I asked the guys to stretch out my fingers but they couldn’t open them up. It was like they were frozen in that position. I could feel my body locking up and it was moving further up my body. Knowing that the oxygen bottle I had in the boat wouldn’t last forever I waiting until last minute to call for it. I told the guys where it was located and that all they needed to do was hook up the mask onto the valve and very very slowly open the valve on the top of the tank. I could feel this strange sensation moving from my legs up to my waist and continuing it’s way into my torso. It moved all the way up to my jaw, which severely limited my ability to talk to the guys.
By this time we had reached the dock and the ambulance still had not shown up yet. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to even make it to the hospital. I remember saying, “hurry, hurry, hurry,” but there was nothing they could do to get the ambulance there any faster. Since my jaw was locking up it just sounded like a drunken slur. I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn’t get it out clearly.
I kept glancing at how much oxygen I had left in the bottle, knowing that without the manually-triggered resuscitation valve or the non-re-breather mask and bag I was inevitably wasting a lot of my precious oxygen.  My heart rate was jumping and I was sucking down that oxygen very quickly. Fighting my hardest to stay calm and collected, I began to think this might be it; this might be how Jonathan Hernandez passes away. My vision became blurry and my body was completely locked up when I heard the sound of the ambulance in the distance. Again I said “Hurry, hurry, hurry. I don’t want to die!”
They got a backboard, rolled me onto it, and began to lift me off the boat and up the sea wall to the ambulance. Here’s where it got really scary. You would think that once you get into “professional medical attention” you could relax a little bit and know that you’re going to be OK. Unfortunately, I never had that warm feeling inside. Instead I was slurring at the crew in the ambulance as my oxygen mask was falling off my face. At a point it had shifted so much that I felt like Jim Carrey in the movie Liar Liar when he wrecked the stair lift on the runway chasing down the airplane that had his family on it. The mask was who-knows-where and the strap was pulling upward on my nose as I pictured the luggage strap pulling on Jim Carrey’s nose in the movie. I tried to reposition it with my weak, locked-up arms I even started hitting the guy to get his attention on me. Meanwhile the Pulse Oximeter had come off my finger and the girl on that side of course had not noticed. As bad as this sounds I felt like I was being pranked with how poorly I was being taken care of in this ambulance. It was a joke. I had to keep asking for them to talk to me and let me know I was going to be OK and I’d still hear silence and the driver honking the horn at traffic. This ambulance ride seemed like it lasted for over an hour even though it was apparently only 30 minutes at 80 miles per hour. Staring at bright white lights and praying to God that I would survive this shark attack, we eventually made it to the hospital.
Finally, I could catch my breath and get something for the pain I was in. Once again, I was terribly wrong. They rolled me into the emergency room where a crew was waiting for me. As they began to assess the situation I could hear personal phone calls being made, guys joking and laughing in the background, and confusion amongst the staff as to what their plan of action was. I was officially freaked out as they began to go to work on me without giving me anything to numb my leg or any pain medications to relieve the agony that I had endured the last few hours. They had me lying on my stomach so that my shredded calf was exposed to work on. They began to take off the dressing and tourniquets we had applied and put on their own tourniquet. Once again, I could feel every time they grabbed the tourniquet to turn it tighter; I braced myself but it didn’t help. I screamed over and over every time they tightened it on me. During that tourniquet transition, I lost a lot more blood. I was now lying in a pool of my own blood, asking repeatedly for something to numb my leg or relieve the pain. I could feel them sticking needles through my exposed calf muscle and trying to connect the fascia of the muscles in my calf. I was now in the worst pain I could ever imagine, screaming at the top of my lungs while they casually worked on my leg while I’m wide awake. When they finally released the tourniquet on my leg and gave me some pain medication, it was the biggest relief I have ever felt. They put two sutures inside the calf and seven outside just to hold the calf in place. This was now five hours in after getting attacked and I finally had very little pain or discomfort.
With a jet in the air, the plan was to fly me straight to Tampa and then get me into St. Joseph’s Hospital. I could finally relax a little knowing the proper medical treatment I needed was only a flight away.
They loaded me back into the ambulance and took me to the airport where the pilots were waiting for us. We had one of the local nurses come with us to Tampa just in case something happened while we were in the air. As I laid on a cushion on the floor of the jet I was actually able to fall asleep for a little while. Once we landed, Customs was there waiting and checked us in within 60 seconds. Another transfer into an ambulance and I was on my way to St Joseph’s. We arrived to the hospital around 7:00 p.m. Doctors and nurses came in to look at my leg and assess the damage. Dr. Guerrerie was my surgeon and got me into surgery the next evening. He did a good job of stitching me up and closing the wounds. I spent five nights in the hospital and was later released.
I’m extremely thankful that God was looking out for me that day. I was told in the hospital that I had lost half of my blood. The use of a tourniquet is the single biggest reason while I am still here today. Looking at my leg I could see my tendon running along the inside of the wound and could see it move as I adjusted my ankle. Amazingly the shark missed all the major arteries, tendons, and ligaments in my leg. There were a lot of factors that fell into place that led to my survival story. The immediate application of the tourniquets, a calm crew, proper medical equipment, plenty of people able to help, the ability to get a jet in the air right away, and a fast boat, all played to my advantage.  I’m extremely lucky and blessed considering the situation and how much worse it could have turned out. Had we been in a slower boat much further away with only a couple of people on board with no knowledge of a tourniquet and a lousy medical set up, I probably would have just died on the boat ride.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have the proper medical equipment on board,  the knowledge to use it, and making sure your guests each day know where it’s located as well. Before heading out on a friend’s boat, double-check the boat is equipped with medical and first aid set up or offer to bring yours. Whether it’s fishing, diving, a sunset cruise, or a trip to the island, accidents happen and you should always be prepared. As the captain for the center console we were on, I was responsible for having the boat properly equipped with both medical and safety equipment. Some of the key items we carry include an extensive DAN first aid kit, Frontline Freediving trauma kit, pure oxygen, AED, EPIRB, water desalinator, satellite phone, flares, whistles, a mirror, etc. These are all items I would recommend carrying if you are making trips offshore or doing Bahamas crossings. Every person that steps on your boat should know where your medical equipment is located and have the basic knowledge to use it. This preparation could save your buddy’s life or, as it did in my case, your very own.