CLEARWATER, Fla. (FOX 13) - A Clearwater man came face to face with an aggressive shark that attacked and bit his leg while he was spearfishing in the Bahamas, he said. Thankfully, he was able to fight it off and reach the boat. Eleven days later, he's sharing his incredible story of survival.
Jonathan Hernandez is back home recovering and very grateful for that fact, knowing not everyone is so lucky. Hernandez has saltwater in his veins.
"When you go down there and you hold your breath, you just feel free," he said.
The private boat captain has been casting lines for as long as he can remember.
"Around here, my favorite to target is grouper and hogfish," he explained.
But, a recent spearfishing trip off the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas left him with a fish tale he barely lived to tell.
"Got in the water, started shooting some fish and that's when it happened," Hernandez recalled. "Just out of nowhere, I got hit from behind. It felt like the boat ran me over. I looked to my left side and I could see the shark right there in my face."
After the shark's sharp jaws dug into his calf, Hernandez went into full defense mode, thrashing and punching in a swirl of white water.
"All I could do was push and shove and use my long blades, the long free-diving blades to kick away from him," Hernandez said.
When he made it to the boat, the group jumped into action. What happened in those crucial seconds ultimately saved his life.
"We put the tourniquet on immediately. We put on one, we put on another, we were using weight belts, we were using what we had," Hernandez said. "It's a pain and a feeling I can't describe."
Hernandez was quickly stitched up in the Bahamas, flown to Tampa, and went into surgery at St. Joseph's Hospital.
"I looked down at my hand and you could see the sand paper mark on the top of my hand and the swollen and bruising from me punching him off of me," Hernandez said.
He's forever grateful to have survived the harrowing underwater encounter. He's now urging every boater to go through their safety equipment, understand it and always have a tourniquet ready.
"That's the single biggest factor of why I'm still here," Hernandez said about the tourniquet. "Be prepared, have the right gear on the boat, make sure you know where it's at, and have the basic knowledge to use it because you never know when you're going to need it."
Hernandez has to let his leg heal for about five weeks before he can begin physical therapy. But, as soon as he gets the chance, he said he'll be back on the water doing what he loves.