Part 5 - Surfer Dave Pearson survives a shark attack

By Angie Davis

Instagram @angelahelendavis

*WARNING - GRAPHIC CONTENT BELOW

On Wednesday March 23rd, 2011, Dave Pearson headed straight from work to the surf at ‘Iron Peg’ (mid-NSW coast) with his new board, sharing a couple waves with two mates Scott and Aaron Noddy Wallis. Barely 10 minutes had past when he was suddenly knocked by something that felt like he’d been “hit by a train”…a bull shark.

“It surprised the crap out of me…I think I was looking over towards the guys checking the waves coming in (about 30 metres away) and I did not see the shark at all – I have recollections of a flash of a grey image out of the corner of my eye.

The shark had breached the water and took me back under with it, after a brief wrestle under the water we parted ways. It was all over in a matter of 10 seconds.  I then resurfaced, got back up onto my board and looked at my arm and noticed blood squirting everywhere and the huge torn gash…I thought: “that doesn’t look right.” It was then I realized that I had been bitten by a shark…I remember looking around me thinking how red the water had turned; I thought it looked just like a movie scene.”

Dave's mates helped to tourniquet his wounded arm with leg ropes, rope and a towel to try and stop the bleeding.

Dave's mates helped to tourniquet his wounded arm with leg ropes, rope and a towel to try and stop the bleeding.

Dave used his spare right hand to fold his bitten arm’s exposed muscle and skin back roughly in place and tried to clamp his squirting arteries and veins to minimal avail.

“Time seemed to stand still, it may have been 30 seconds or 5 minutes before I started moving.”

Still in shock, Dave started paddling one-handed toward the shore, concerned that the shark would come back for a second bite but focussing his attention on getting to shore.

“Luckily, or unluckily, a decent sized wave doubled up and broke right on top of me and washed me in some. I remember rolling around the water realizing I had no strength to get back to the surface. I could also feel the loose flesh on my arm flapping about…I got hit by a couple more waves and was fading fast, I remember thinking about my family and thought “not today Dave” and pushed myself up one more time.”

Dave's mates kept pressure on his arm for over two hours before the emergency services arrived.

Dave's mates kept pressure on his arm for over two hours before the emergency services arrived.

Noddy had witnessed the attack and while everything was telling him to get out of the water, the mental torture of leaving someone in need was just too great for him to leave his mate. It took a few waves but eventually the two made it safely back to the beach, but Dave was still in a bad way.

Dave’s mates helped tourniquet his arm with leg ropes and a towel to try and stop the bleeding; they then had a 150m walk to the car park where Dave finally lost strength as the pain started to kick in. Lying on a wooden picnic table in the car park, Scott kept pressure on Dave’s arm for the good two-plus hours before the emergency services arrived. Dave was airlifted by helicopter to hospital. Dave’s arm was saved in surgery, but the physical and mental recovery was to be a long road to come.

The sun had well and truly set by the time Dave was airlifted to hospital.

The sun had well and truly set by the time Dave was airlifted to hospital.

The shark hit Dave so hard in the face it felt like he'd been "hit by a train."

The shark hit Dave so hard in the face it felt like he'd been "hit by a train."

The incredible repair job.

The incredible repair job.

“My first ‘walk’ back into the water (about a week after discharge from hospital) was a little freaky. I watched every piece of seaweed and managed to get up to my waist without getting my arm wet. On 21st May I was strong enough to paddle out…I was ready to surf, my arm was not. I just could not put any weight on it and could not get up, so I just caught waves lying down. I swapped boards with my partner Debbie who was on a soft board for more flotation…unfortunately this left me out the back on my own. While waiting for a wave an uneasy feeling crept throughout my body. I knew in my mind I had been in this position a thousand times and had no control over what fish do. I put this to the back of my mind and after catching a few waves lying down I eventually got a clean right hander and managed to get to my feet. I got past the white water and did a few turns, a little floater and I was stoked. I was back.”

Lessons

  • “Your mates will come to your aid, no matter what.
  • Most of my life I have lived by the ‘glass is half full’ philosophy; this has not changed.
  • It was not my fault the shark chose me. This does not make it any easier to deal with, but hopefully easier to move on from.
  • You never know the last time you speak to someone may be the last time; make sure people who are important to you know that.
  • You are never too young for a bucket list.” – Dave Pearson.

Dave is now an active member of the closed Facebook Page 'Bite Club', a support network for those affected by shark attacks. Dave believes that around 20 to 50 people get immediately affected when someone is attacked by a shark. Some recover quickly, others do not.

To be continued - Part 6 - What the surfers think.

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