Cape Town - Fellow surfers who helped save the life of a young man who was bitten by a great white shark off Muizenberg beach on Friday have described how he was hurled 3 metres into the air by the force of the attack.
“There was only the board between him and the shark’s mouth. His board saved him,” a still shocked Julian Pringle said just hours after the attack which closed the beach on Friday.
The city was to reassess the situation at the beach this morning.
The surfer, 20-year-old Matthew Smithers, was in ICU at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Pinelands on Friday night, said his brother Mitchell. He told Weekend Argus the family would decide whether to be interviewed after he was discharged from the unit.
Smithers’s Facebook page showed he is a past pupil of Westville Boys’ High in Durban, and a student at UCT. He lives in Newlands.
The surfing community was in shock on Friday as winter attacks by great whites are not common, according to Greg Oelofse, head of environmental policy and strategy for the City of Cape Town.
Veteran surfer Pringle, who together with Brendhan “Jock” Kannemeyer swam out to help a badly-injured Smithers out of the surf just after 2pm on Friday, said the shark “was at least 4m, maybe bigger”.
“That guy should be dead,” he told Weekend Argus, calling Smithers’s survival “a miracle”.
Smithers was surfing in deep water between 200m and 300m offshore opposite the Muizenberg Pavilion when the attack took place. The surf was good, but a black flag flying on the beach indicated that spotting conditions were poor.
“The shark came from below and hit the bottom of the board,” Pringle told Weekend Argus.
After the force of the attack sent Smithers spiralling into the air, Pringle said the shark bit him, apparently gashing both his legs badly.
The surfer managed to scramble back on to his board.
Kannemeyer was onshore when he heard about the attack but immediately went into the sea to help.
The shark had not left, and was circling Smithers. Kannemeyer said he paddled over to Smithers.
“He was totally calm. I tied a leash around him and saw that he had a wound at the back of his knee.”
He and Pringle then helped him ashore.
Kannemeyer said it was only when they got to the beach that he realised the extent of Smithers’s injuries.
“He had a big piece of flesh about the size of my hand hanging outside his left thigh.
“And then his right knee on the inside has been punctured. It looked awful,” he said.
NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon confirmed in a statement after the attack that someone had cut the surfboard leash from Smithers’s board, tying it around his limbs to act as a tourniquet to stem the flow of blood.
Later an ambulance arrived, and shortly afterwards Smithers was transported via Skymed helicopter to Vincent Pallotti.
Oelofse told Weekend Argus Smithers was in a stable condition last night and was expected to make a full recovery.
There was some controversy last night over when the warning siren had been sounded by the spotters to get surfers out of the water.
Kannemeyer said he had seen the shark before the attack occurred, and had warned surfers to leave the water.
“I was standing on my board and I was much further out than most people,” he said.
“I saw the shark cruising into where the surfers were. We paddled to other surfers and told them to get out,” said Kannemeyer.
“It’s not shark season so I thought it was a whale. Then I saw it was a great white. You don’t want to scream and panic. You just turn around and want to get out of the water,” he said.
Pringle and other surfers on the scene said the shark siren sounded only after Smithers had been brought ashore.
“Only when we already brought the guy out of the water we saw the shark spotters. They were not manning their station,” he said.
Oelofse said the shark spotters on Boyes Drive had not seen the shark, which he confirmed had first been spotted by surfers.
“The info I have is that the siren was sounded after the attack took place,” he said.
However, Oelofse said spotting conditions were tough due to a haze and murky water.
The spotters had seen dolphins in the area. They may have attracted the shark.
Oelofse said the city was in the process of interviewing witnesses about the attack.
One question the report would cover was whether there was a tourniquet available on site, along with the exact time the siren was sounded.
“We are working through the witness accounts,” he said.
Oelofse added that while shark spotters were trained in first aid, they did not have the training for things like saline drips.
Smithers’s Facebook page reveals his love of the sea, with many photographs of him and friends spending time at the beach and fishing.
On Friday night
his brother Mitchell tweeted under his twitter handle @mitch_twenty9: “My brother is the strongest person I know, love you #sharkattack #muizenberg #Capetown.”