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Tarrant boy carried to safety after shark attack in Gulf of Mexico

07/11/2011 10:45 PM

07/12/2011 8:37 AM

Mark Constien wasn't thinking about sharks when Nicholas Vossler's head went under the water off Matagorda Island.

"At first I thought he'd just gotten knocked off his feet by a wave," Constien said of Nicholas, 12. "When I picked him up it turned out to be more than that."

The boy's left foot was a bloody mess, the result of a brief encounter with a bull shark.

Constien, of Fort Worth, was next to Nicholas when the shark attacked. He said the boy's foot was ripped so badly that his dad, Cecil Vossler, had to force part of the skin back into place as he wrapped a T-shirt around the wound.

Constien and his 15-year-old son, Kevin, held Nicholas up as Cecil Vossler tried to stem the blood flow, and the three of them carried the boy to safety.

When they reached the beach they had to carry Nicholas across the narrow island to a waiting boat.

A helicopter picked the boy up at a fishing dock in Port O'Connor and flew him to a hospital, said Kathryn Constien, Mark Constien's wife.

Constien said he doesn't consider himself a hero; he was simply next to Nicholas, a home-school student who lives with his family in unincorporated Tarrant County, west of Fort Worth.

"I was pretty calm about it," Constien said. "At the time it happened I wasn't aware there was a shark. I never saw it. I just saw that Nicholas was hurt and bleeding."

The Vosslers could not be reached for comment, but Kathryn Constien said Nicholas is doing pretty well, all things considered. He was wheeled out of his room at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston to have Sunday dinner in the cafeteria with his family, she said.

Constien said he talked Sunday night with Cecil Vossler, owner of Vossler Plumbing in Fort Worth, who said his son is doing well.

"He had a couple of surgeries and has a couple more to come," Constien said. "The prognosis for recovery is good. It sounds like he still has a tough road ahead of him. Cecil said he's expecting some of the surgery to go into next week, and he may be in the hospital for a week after that."

Kathryn Constien said that she and the boy's mother, Alisha Vossler, were on the other side of Matagorda Island when the attack happened. She said that Alisha Vossler called 911.

"We were staying with the Vosslers," she said. "They have a home in Port O'Connor. The little island where we were, Matagorda, has nothing on it. You just go there to swim and have fun."

The group was playing in 3 1/2 feet of water over a sandbar about 50 yards from the beach when Nicholas was attacked at about 5 p.m. Thursday, Mark Constien said.

Lance Robinson, regional director of coastal fisheries for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said that early morning and late afternoon are times when most shark attacks occur.

However, he added that a person is more likely to win the lottery than be attacked by a shark.

"Humans are not on the shark's menu," he said.

A shark may take an exploratory bite on a person when a body part presents itself, Robinson said.

Tom Harvey, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman, said that sharks swim around people all the time in the Gulf of Mexico's coastal waters, and the swimmers never see them.

"It may be cold comfort to some people, but they just don't attack people very often at all," he said.

Still, bull shark attacks are the third most common, behind great white and tiger sharks, according to the International Shark Attack File.

The attack on Nicholas was the third off Matagorda Island since 1911, according to the statistics maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida.

Mark Constien said the incident won't scare his family away from Matagorda Island.

"We've been going swimming there for years," he said. "I have no problem going back into the water."

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

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