Teenager Survives Shark Attack

ByABC News via logo
November 17, 2005, 10:16 AM

Nov. 18, 2005 -- -- Craig Hutto was a talented high school basketball and baseball player, but last June, it seemed like his athletic days had come to a tragic end.

Craig, of Lebanon, Tenn., was vacationing with his family in Florida and had been spending the day fishing in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of the Florida Panhandle. While he was standing in waist-deep water, a 6- to 8-foot bull shark took hold of his right leg.

Watch Diane Sawyer's interview with Craig Hutto and his family on "Primetime" Thursday at 10 p.m.

At first the shark just bumped him.

"It was just a bump," Craig said, "and I was praying it was just a little kid messing with me."

Then Craig saw the fin. The next thing he knew, he was being dragged under the water. The shark bit into Craig's right femur, destroying most of the muscle, nerves and blood vessels in the thigh. Doctors amputated the leg. Craig remembers the attack vividly and used to have flashbacks, he said.

It also bit Craig's hands, which have regained mobility but are severely scarred.

Brian Hutto, Craig's older brother, dragged Craig to shore and punched the shark multiple times. But the shark was persistent and kept biting Craig until the brothers were just two feet from shore. Their stunned parents, Louann and Roger Hutto, watched from the beach.

"It looked like something straight out of 'Jaws'," Louann Hutto said.

Craig received medical care on the beach from lifeguards, EMTs and bystanders.

"Just by a miracle, there were three nurses on the beach," Roger Hutto said.

Then Craig was taken to the hospital via helicopter.

Two days earlier, 14-year-old Jamie Daigle was killed by a bull shark in the same area. Nevertheless, experts say that shark attacks in that area are relatively rare. Most of the state's shark attacks take place in Central Florida, not the waters off the Panhandle.

Two months ago, Craig got a prosthetic leg and his progress has been impressive. He no longer uses crutches.

"I want to be able to walk so well with the prosthetic leg that when I have my pant leg down, you can't even tell," he said. "Right now, I limp a little bit. But with practice I want to make that go away."

He receives advice and encouragement from his mentors, amputee athletes Sarah Reinertsen -- who completed the Iron Man challenge -- and John Siciliano -- who also was an accomplished high school athlete. Craig recently flew out to San Diego to watch the two compete in a triathlon.

Although his main goal is to get back out on the basketball court or the baseball diamond before he graduates from high school in 2007. In the immediate future, Craig and brothers Zach and Brian have set an important goal: to compete in a triathlon together. Zach will do the cycling, Brian will run and Craig will get back in the water and swim.

Craig said that despite what he's been through, he's not afraid of the water.

"Everybody thinks I should be really scared, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said of the shark attack. "You don't need to be scared every time you get in the water."

Despite all that he has lost, Craig and his family are thankful he is alive and Craig has found the silver lining.

"It's made me live life a lot better than I did," he said. "I enjoy things I used to take for granted, like walking. Everyone takes walking for granted, but now I am really happy to be able to walk."