Cozell Smith joined a group of about 150 men hanging onto a floater net. It wasn’t much to hang on to, a square rope cargo net about twenty feet to a side, with twelve inches between the ropes and cork floats every two feet. If there was a safe place, it was in the center of the net. The men in the center were less susceptible to shark attack. An ensign was trying to organize the men and get them to move the wounded toward the center, but there were healthy men in the center who wouldn’t give up their spots. Everywhere men were screaming. Smith saw shark fins cutting across the surface of the water not ten feet away from him. He saw a man drift from the group, losing consciousness, and then the man jolted as a shark hit him from the side and pulled him under. Men without life jackets tried to climb on top of men with life jackets. Everywhere he looked he saw chaos, as men screamed, panicked, cursed, fought with one another, drowned one another, scrambled over one another like rats in a bucket, the sea black with oil and red with blood. It was, Smith thought, everything he’d ever read about hell.
Suddenly Smith felt a shark take him by the left hand and pull him under before he had a chance to scream. His left hand was in the shark’s mouth up to the wrist. He couldn’t shake it loose. He could see the shark underwater. It was maybe eight or ten feet long. It rolled, then twisted, trying to rip his hand off. Smith held his breath and pushed at the shark, trying to get his left hand free as the shark jerked from side to side. Smith’s right hand slipped off the shark’s nose until he felt a soft spot on the side of the shark’s head. Smith plunged his middle finger into the soft spot and slid it in all the way to the last knuckle. His eye, Smith thought. I’ll rip his eye out if he thinks he can pull me down. Then the shark turned him loose. Smith kicked for the surface, certain the shark would take him again. He surfaced, gasping for air. His hand was torn and bleeding, but at least it was still connected to his arm. He swam back toward the group, but found he was no longer welcome there. Men feared that Smith’s wounds would only attract more sharks.
“Get away!” someone yelled at him.
“Keep him off – keep him away!”