Uncle Speaks Out on Shark Rescue

ByABC News via via logo

July 9, 2002 -- It has been one year since Jesse Arbogast, then 8, was mauled by a shark, and the uncle who rescued him is still haunted by the attack.

Vance Flosenzier, the uncle, spoke to ABCNEWS' Good Morning America, describing publicly for the first time how he rescued his nephew just over one year ago on an ocean beach near Pensacola, Fla.

He and his wife were getting ready to call their own children and their niece and nephew to the shore for supper.

"We were getting ready to go to supper, and about to gather them out of the water when I heard my son yell 'shark!' " Flosenzier said. "I heard a scream, turned to the water and saw a pool of blood where the three boys were."

Vance and Diana Flosenzier raced toward the shoreline, where the children had been wading in shallow ocean surf.

"When I got there I realized it was Jesse, and the shark had him by the arm," Vance Flosenzier said. "I mean it had Jesse's arm and it was rolling, like you see [sharks] on a video clip, where they are engaged in trying to tear their prey apart. And you know, that's kind of a haunting image to think back on, because I saw that as I was running up to it. You know, right before I seized its tail, that's what I saw."

Holding the Shark

On the day of the attack, Jesse's relatives and bystanders thought fast.

Vance Flosenzier grabbed onto the shark and wrestled the animal barehanded out of the water. Diana Flosenzier and others pulled Jesse to the shore. The boy's arm had been severed and he was bleeding profusely.

On the beach, Diana Flosenzier administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation to keep her nephew alive.

"Probably within a minute or two he stopped breathing altogether," she said. "I realized, 'I know what to do, I've got to breathe for him, there's nothing else to do.' So I laid him down and started doing rescue breathing."

For more than 10 minutes, she and others kept up CPR on Jesse, while Vance Flosenzier struggled to pull the shark away from children who were still in the water.

"As I was doing CPR, I could see Vance coming out of the water with the shark, holding it up, and all I could think was 'Good, he didn't let it go,' because I knew the girls were still out there," Diana Flosenzier said.

The shark reportedly was nearly 7 feet long, but her husband said he didn't give the size much thought.

"I sure didn't want to let it go. And it seemed that if I held its tail up out of the water, it didn't have a lot of power," Vance Flosenzier said.

His wife said neither of them thought much about placing themselves in harm's way.

"You just had to do," she said. "You just had to react."

Arm Pried From Jaws of Shark

Still, the rescuers were in a state of shock.

"I couldn't believe what was happening," Vance Flosenzier said. "It was just like a nightmare at that point."

The Flosenziers credit bystanders, an off-duty paramedic, and a swift air ambulance team with saving Jesse, who had lost 30 units of blood.

"They very quickly determined that they needed to do a load and go, and they quickly scooped him up and put him on and put him in a position where they could continue the CPR," Vance Flosenzier said. "And within just a couple of minutes of landing they were back in the air, taking him toward Baptist Hospital."

Then, attention turned to Jesse's severed arm.

"I told them it was in the shark and they turned the shark over on its side and stuck a retractable baton into its mouth and pried it open," Vance Flosenzier said. "They could see it was still lodged in its throat."

A Slow Recovery

Surgeons were able to reattach the arm, but Jesse still had a very long road to recovery ahead. He emerged slowly from a coma, but today is still unable to speak and struggles with severe physical impairments.

"He still doesn't speak," Diana Flosenzier said. "He can communicate, and he can move his uninjured arm with purpose to pick up objects — not real well, but he can do that. All of that is stuff that he couldn't do six months ago."

If his progress continues, it might take years, but he could have a very good chance of recovery, Vance Flosenzier said.

His aunt and uncle are cautiously optimistic, but realize that recovery won't be easy. It requires hours of therapy, with Jesse learning to walk again, and hoping to talk again.

"His dad has not gone back to work," Diana Flosenzier said. "It's a full-time job, caring for Jesse. It's been difficult for all of them, there's no doubt about that. And hopefully as Jesse progresses, the family will heal, too."

The aunt and uncle live an hour from Jesse and his family's home in Ocean Springs, Miss, and they visit him each week. He smiles, they say, each time they come to the door.

"When he survived the first night, I knew he was going to make it," Diana Flosenzier said. "There's not been any question in my mind, that he was going to be OK. That remains to be seen, I mean the story's not over for us, but I guess I still feel that way."

ABCNEWS' Erin Hayes reported this story for Good Morning America.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events