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Old 06-20-2007, 03:15 PM
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RickI RickI is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Florida
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Default Severe Barracuda Attack

Photo: Rick Iossi

This is a fish tale or more accurately the story of an nasty encounter between Chef Paul and a Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). Paul Menta is a very well known kiteboarding instructor through The Kitehouse and PASA, is an Executive Chef at The Grand Cafe in Key West and is an active spearfisherman. This last activity takes us into the following story ...

The Florida Keys and Sambo Reefs about 6 miles off Key West, FL

In February 2005 Paul Menta, his regular diving partner Jessie, Jack a diver for the Mel Fisher Salvage organization, Chris and Mia headed out spearfishing.

Paul Menta shooting some video in the Turks and Caicos

The were doing drift diving runs in about 40 to 60 feet of water off the Western Sambo Reef about six miles off Key West, Florida. Visibility was about 70 ft. in bluewater. They had been out for about four hours.

The area of Western Sambo Reef

Paul said he could feel a special energy or level of activity on the reef. "The water was alive" and "everyone was hunting that day," fish and divers alike. It was during a full moon and the mutton snappers were spawning heating things up. They had nailed a couple of groupers and mutton and were just getting into some more.

Paul eased down to the bottom, down current some of the crew on the other side of a large coral head. They other guys had just shot two mutton snapper. There were a couple of other mutton drifting Paul's way so he grabbed the bottom to wait for them to come by. One came up and Paul took him with a head shot.

A mutton snapper checks things out.

Paul then started for the surface with the mutton held close in. He had used this as a deterrent to other predators in the past with success. He was about 20 ft. off the bottom when something hit him HARD in the right shoulder from behind. The mutton jerked in his hand as well. Paul's anxiety spiked as he looked around trying to figure out what was going on. He saw a barracuda, a big one about 5 1/2 ft. long and fat turning around to face him. It was in full attack mode, jaws snapping, body arched and snaking fast as it bore in on him again. A few seconds must have elapsed since his shoulder was hit and he instinctively raised his hand to protect his face and dropped the fish and gun from his right hand. Just that fast the cuda struck Paul hard ripping into his arm and then flashed off slammed into the sinking mutton snapper to finish up.

Photo: Rick Iossi

The shock of the encounter rammed into him and Paul's heart rev'd way up. This is exactly what you don't want on a breathhold dive. He is still 20 ft. beneath the surface and the hunger for air has just exploded to overshadow all other considerations, shredded arm, barracuda attacks or whatever else might charge out of the blue. He just wanted one thing very badly, air. He made the surface, grabbed a lung full and continued to chug in the stuff through his snorkel. He then moved on to priority two and took a good look beneath him to see what might be moving in for a second bite. There was a lot of activity below, with some sharks showing up. After all a few mutton had been speared, the cuda was going off on his prize and Paul had a chunk of arm flesh ripped from him. Buffets open guys, come and get it. He then looked at his arm, not good. His arm was ripped open, with bone showing. The laceration was across the entire width of his arm, perhaps five inches along the length and was gaping with torn flesh and muscle. It wasn't bleeding that much amazingly so no arteries had been sliced, yet. Next he looked up to locate the boat. With all the current he had drifted about 300 yards perhaps more, sigh. He grabbed his speargun float line and wound it around his arm just below the elbow as a loose tourniquet. He was still pulling in huge panting breaths when he heard Jessie and Jack yell a hundred yards or so away, "SHARKS!"

Black tips cruising

More accurately, lots of sharks. Paul signaled Jessie with his uninjured arm and yelled help. They know that if either one of them signals in this way it means either they are injured or are about to succumb to Shallow Water Blackout. The guys started charge over to Paul as the sharks continue heat up on the bottom. Paul got to the boat under his own steam while focusing more on the sharks. There was a bull and four blacktips circling on the bottom and not near the surface, yet.

A bull moving in

Mia was in the boat and Paul was about out of energy while wondering about the sharks as well. Paul got into the boat with Mia's help. She asked "what should I do?" Paul said, grab my arm and hold the wound shut. Mia did just that, grabbing the torn bits in both hands and compressing the mess back into place. The guys got on the boat and asked what happened? Paul said he was attacked by a barracuda. They said, well that couldn't have been that bad. To set the story straight, Paul and Mia released their grips on the arm and blew the guys away with the gory spectacle. After washing it out with freshwater, Mia and Paul attempted to hold the mass together for a rush trip to Stock Island just north of Key West. Jack called ahead to his buds on the Fisher treasure salvage vessel to get his car ready to haul Paul to the ER pronto.

Mel Fisher even got involved, or at least divers in his organization did in laying on Jack's car at the dock on Stock Island to rush Paul to the hospital.

A very pregnant nurse, perhaps 8 months along, asked Paul what happened. He said he got hit by a barracuda and took his hands from the wound. She roundly chastised him for teasing cudas and saying he should know better. He said no teasing was involved just spearing. As it happened the nurse was also a spearfisherman. Paul started to worry about the nurse going into labor in the midst of his treatment she seemed to be so far along. So they worked on his arm, irrigating it (incredibly painful) several times while asking him to close his fist to verify continued nerve function as they were exposed to the light of day as well. They even pulled a cuda tooth fragment from his bone, wonder if Paul still has it? No painkillers had been administered to this point. He did get a shot of novacane before he received 23 stitches underneath and 14 staples on top (his hands were tired at this point so why not use staples to hold it together instead?). He though had he not had his hand in a loose claw when the cuda hit, he might have lost some fingers during the attack. A couple of years later things are pretty much back to normal though as a keepsake Paul tells me he has lost feeling in some small areas of the surface of his left hand. It doesn't seem to have slowed him down, not by a long shot.


Text Copyright 2007 FKA, Inc.
FKA, Inc.

transcribed by:
Rick Iossi

Last edited by RickI; 08-11-2010 at 09:14 PM.
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