VERO BEACH — A swimmer visiting from Germany was bitten by a shark Wednesday afternoon off the beach between the Driftwood Inn Resort and Humiston Park, according to fire rescue officials.
Karin Ulrike Stei, 47, of Konstanz, Germany, was flown to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute in Fort Pierce, authorities said.
The shark bite took a large section of Stei's upper left thigh area down to the bone, according to lifeguard Erik Toomsoo, who brought the woman in to shore.
She was in surgery as of 5 p.m., according to Ginger King, hospital spokeswoman.
According to police, Stei and friend Brigitte Schmid were swimming in waist-deep water when the incident occurred. Stei was approximately 30 yards from the shore and Schmid was approximately 20 to 25 yards from the shore when Stei was bitten.
Schmid told investigators she was not aware that Stei was in danger until she heard her yell "Shark." She turned to look at her friend and saw blood in the water near her. There were no other witnesses to the incident.
Toomsoo, the on-duty lifeguard at Humiston on Wednesday, said he was standing on the boardwalk steps when he said he heard a woman yell "Help, Shark!" at about 11:30 a.m.
He saw a woman in a "pool of blood" about 30 yards out from the Driftwood Resort, he said.
Toomsoo ran down and swam out to the woman, yelling to people on shore to call 911 as he brought Stei to shore. Many of the people who had heard the woman's screams were already on the phone calling in.
Some construction workers and others came down to assist Toomsoo as he reached shore, including lifeguards Jordan Farrow and Shanna Beard.
"These guys went right in," said Gloria Shire, who was on the beach with her husband, Jim. "They didn't care if there was a shark in the water."
Jim Shire said he was just sitting back getting ready to read the paper when all of a sudden he heard Stei "yelling, screaming for help."
The Shires have been coming down from Milwaukee to a time share they have at the resort for 31 years, and this is the first time they have seen anything like they witnessed Wednesday.
"It's so upsetting to actually see that happen," said Gloria Shire.
The Shires don't go into the water except to wade, but others who normally swim out there were having second thoughts about re-entering the ocean anytime soon.
"I used to go in there every now and then, but I'm not going anymore," said John Rodighiero, an Illinois visitor who was sitting near the Shires when he also heard the woman screaming from the water.
Among those who came to offer assistance were construction workers Scott Weston and Michael Curran.
"I heard a woman yelling, screaming and saw a black cloud around her," said Curran, who was working on an upper floor of the Driftwood Resort.
Curran and others described the women as back-paddling from the cloud, or trail, of blood.
Curran at first couldn't make out the yells and thought it may have been someone playing, but hurried down as soon as he realized she was in distress. His uncle, Scott Weston, jumped in to help Toomsoo pull the woman in while Curran called for assistance.
Off-duty lifeguard Beard, who also is a registered nurse, was sunbathing with her mom when she heard the commotion. All three lifeguards worked to stabilize Stei until emergency workers arrived.
Toomsoo said the woman was in shock but never lost consciousness. She was awake, alert and able to speak, Beard said.
"She's a very strong-willed woman," Beard said.
Toomsoo said people at the hotel provided assistance, and police and Indian River County paramedics arrived quickly.
A Martin County Fire Rescue LifeStar helicopter was in the area coming back from an operational visit at the Sebastian River Medical Center when one of the flight paramedics saw the trail of blood in the water and had the helicopter swing back around, he said.
"Everybody seemed to be in right place at the right time," Toomsoo said of rescuers.
Stei and Schmid are from Konstanz, Germany, and are visiting a friend in Vero Beach, police said.
Toomsoo, who was being hailed as a hero, said; "I was just doing my job. I just hope she's all right."
Meanwhile, lifeguards ordered people out of the water, at least until the end of the day, when they will reassess, Recreation Director Rob Slezak said.
Toomsoo described the attack as a "freak accident," saying that there have been pods of bait fish in the area with sharks following, but there have been no more sharks than usual.
Slezak said both bull and tiger sharks are common to the area, but it was unknown what type of shark attacked Stei."It just picked her for some reason," said Toomsoo of the shark.