Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Surfer escapes from a great white shark attack

A KINGSCOTE man has fought off a 5m Great White shark with his bare hands - and told of his lucky escape - after an attack off Kangaroo Island yesterday.Joshua Berris, 26, was surfing 20m off shore at Cape de Couedic, on the southwest coast of the island, when a shark circled him and bit at both his legs about noon.

He told rescuers he had then punched the shark in the head and put one of his hands in its mouth to free himself from its jaws.

Another surfer went to the rescue and helped the injured man to shore, before help was called and a rescue helicopter from Adelaide flew to the scene.

Mr Berris, who was supposed to be celebrating his birthday, later could not believe he was able to speak about his amazing tale of survival.

As he was being wheeled from the helicopter after touching down at the Flinders Medical Centre, he said he was "very lucky to be alive".

"It wasn't the best birthday present," he said.

He said everyone involved in saving him "did a great job".

Mr Berris suffered lacerations to both legs and one of his hands.

Last night, he was in a stable condition and doctors expect him to make a full recovery.

Paramedic Dean George, who helped rescue Mr Berris, said there had been about 30-40 seals in the area.

"Josh was wearing a black wetsuit and, with so many seals around, it was easy to see that a shark could have mistaken him for a seal," Mr George said.

"The shark was dragging him from his surfboard and he had to pull his leg rope off to get away. "He said it was a 14-foot to 16-foot white pointer.

"He was extremely brave, and I think the guy who went out to help him really saved Josh's life, and he is a very lucky man."

Mr Berris's father, Steve Berris, said that "all we are thinking about is how lucky he is to be alive".
"We've only got sketchy details. We only know that's he's safe and he's just so lucky," he said.
Last night, witnesses told how two of Mr Berris's friends had scaled a cliff and run more than a kilometre to summon help.

Steve McKee and wife Cindy, who were on their honeymoon staying at guest cottages near Admiral's Arch, saw the surfers head for the sea earlier in the day.

"We saw them all heading down with their surfboards on the car and we're just thinking 'where are they going?' There's nothing there but shipwrecks, high seas and cliffs," Mr McKee said.

An hour later, he and his wife returned from a drive to find and comfort one of the surfers, Lewis Downie, 15, who had climbed the cliff and run more than a kilometre with brother Nathan, 17, to the nearest phone at the cottages.

"He was so calm. I don't really think it had hit him. He just sat with us and we talked to him," Mr McKee said. "He was saying they were all down there and he just heard someone shout 'shark'.
"He said he was a fair distance away, but could easily see the shark's head. He was amazing considering a Great White had just been so close to him."

The two friends had run to the cottages after the group had used their towels to stem the bleeding from cuts to Mr Berris's lower leg.

"We were talking about how much sharks had been in the news lately and he was a bit frustrated that they'd even gone surfing after seeing seals and seal pups in the area . . . he just said 'perhaps that wasn't the smartest thing to do'," Mr McKee said.

The spot is known for seals. Some of the men had been surfing in the spot before, although it is not believed they were regulars.

Local long-time surfer Kym Buttery, 52, said the risks involved in surfing so close to seals were not worth taking.

"That is a scary surf area. I wouldn't surf it and I have surfed in a lot of scary places," he said.


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