Saturday, January 27, 2007

Survivor of Great White Shark attack had head in jaws!

AN abalone diver has survived a terrifying attack by a white pointer shark, which swallowed his head and shoulders before he fought free of the predator.

Eric Nerhus, 41, was diving off the New South Wales south coast today when the 3m shark seized him head on, crunching on his head, shoulders and chest, he told friends later.

Protected from the worst of the shark's bite by a lead-lined weight vest, the diver stabbed and clubbed at the creature's head and eyes with an abalone chisel until it spat him free.

The shark's bite crushed Mr Nerhus's reinforced face mask, broke his nose, and shredded his wetsuit.

With blood pouring from deep wounds to his head, chest and back, Mr Nerhus surfaced off Cape Howe, near Eden, to be pulled aboard a boat by his son Mark, 25.

Suffering blood loss and shock, he was flown to Wollongong Hospital, where he was stable and conscious tonight, telling friends of his miraculous escape.

"He was actually bitten by the head down, the shark swallowed his head," said fellow diver and friend Dennis Luobikis.

"I think Eric's the first professional abalone diver that's actually survived a white pointer attack," added Mr Luobikis, 52.

"Eric is a tough boy, he's super fit.

"But I would say that would test anyone's resolve, being a fish lunch.

"He'd have a better chance of winning the lotto (than surviving that attack), and I think he would have rather done that."

The attack occurred around 10.30am (AEDT) today as Mr Nerhus was searching for abalone in weedy, murky waters nine metres deep.

"He come up to the surface, he was going: `Help. Help there's a shark, there's a shark'," son Mark Nerhus told TV networks.

"I went over and there was a big pool of red blood and I pulled him out of the water and he was going: `Just get me to shore, get me to shore'."

Divers in a nearby boat gave first aid and one radioed his father, who was flying overhead in a spotter plane, to call for emergency help.

The Snowy Hydro Rescue Helicopter arrived shortly after 11.10am and airlifted Mr Nerhus to Wollongong Hospital, where he may undergo surgery as early as tomorrow for his injuries, a spokeswoman said.

But tonight, Mr Nerhus was sitting up and talking about his experience and was in a stable condition, the spokeswoman said.

Doctors said the shark had "taken the diver completely into its mouth".

But Mr Luobikis said Mr Nerhus' weight vest had probably saved his life.

All divers need lead to submerge but abalone divers use a lead vest rather than a weight belt.
"We've always felt (the vest) would probably help us in a shark attack and this is the first time we've had it confirmed," Mr Luobikis said.

There had been a rash of white pointer sightings in recent weeks thanks to unusually cold waters off Eden, but such an attack was unheard of, Mr Luobikis said.

"I have been a professional diver in Eden for 36 years and I'm not aware of any white pointer attacks in that time," he said.

Mr Luobikis said sharks pass abalone divers quite often but the divers never know, since they are head down, working.

"It's one of the hazards of the job – you accept it.

"They could swim over the top of you and you wouldn't even see them."

Last month, a 15-year-old boy lost part of his leg to a shark which attacked him while he was surfing near Esperance, in Western Australia, and another man had his leg bitten while surfing at Bells Beach in Victoria.

Last January, a scuba diver survived a great white attack off the coast of Perth by fighting off the shark with his speargun and then his hands.

But a 21-year-old woman died that same month when attacked by three sharks while swimming off North Stradbroke Island, in Queensland's southeast.

Between 1995 and 2005, Australia reported 74 shark attacks, second only to the US state of Florida, according to the US-based International Shark Attack File.

Great whites are the world's largest known predatory fish, with an average length of between 4 and 5m.

But they can grow up 6m in colder waters.

Sharks, including great whites, are protected in Australia.


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