Circling bull shark surrounds civilians after boat capsizes, Air Force personnel make rescue

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U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Samari Rivera-Rogriguez, left, and Sabin Venable conduct a routine patrol along the coastline of MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, July 10, 2022. On June 12, marine patrolmen Airman 1st Class Samari Rivera-Rodriguez, Kade Jones, and Sabin Venable, along with Staff Sgt. William Au rescued eight victims who were stranded on top of a capsized vessel in Tampa Bay while on patrol. The 6th SFS Marine Patrol unit is the only fully operational, 24/7 unit in the Air Force, and is responsible for protecting one of the largest coastal restricted areas in the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander Cook)


Joe Mario Pedersen

Orlando Sentinel

Eight civilians were rescued this summer by patrolling U.S. Air Force personnel after their boat capsized off Florida’s Gulf Coast and caught the attention of a nearby bull shark.

On the morning of June 12, the 6th Security Forces Squadron Marine Patrol Unit decided to go for a routine sweep of the Tampa Bay coast, according to a MacDill Air Force Base press release.

The decision to go out was actually against protocol due to a “small craft advisory,” warning boaters to stay away from the water because of increased dangers of wind and waves churned up by what became Tropical Storm Alex, a system that passed through the area several days earlier.

U.S. marine patrolmen assigned to the 6th Security Forces Squadron operate a vessel during a routine patrol in Tampa Bay, Florida, July 10, 2022. On June 12, marine patrolmen Airman 1st Class Samari Rivera-Rodriguez, Kade Jones, and Sabin Venable, along with Staff Sgt. Au rescued eight victims who were stranded on top of a capsized vessel in Tampa Bay while on patrol. The 6th SFS Marine Patrol unit is the only fully operational, 24/7 unit in the Air Force, and is responsible for protecting one of the largest coastal restricted areas in the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander Cook)

Despite this, the unit decided to patrol anyway and discovered eight people in the water clinging to a capsized pontoon boat, and visibly very scared. As airmen tried to rescue the passengers, one airman noticed a circling bull shark that appeared to be 10 to 12 feet in length.

The patrol called for backup as the frequency of tall waves made the rescue extremely difficult. A second marine patrol unit arrived as well as the Coast Guard and the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office. Within 15 minutes the passengers were safely rescued.

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