National Geographic documentary maker Chris Fischer and other scientists have been re-issued research permits following the death of a bodyboarder in Cape Town. Photo: Michael Walker

Two Cape Town men have been lauded as heroes after risking their lives to rescue a badly injured swimmer, while the shark which had attacked him lurked nearby.

Douglas Drysdale, 61, from Glencairn Heights, and Hugh Till, 66, from Fish Hoek had been returning home from Pollsmoor Prison, where they work as spiritual guidance volunteers.

Usually, they look out for whales as they approach Clovelly Corner, but yesterday they saw a lone swimmer and a dark shape in the water.

They hurriedly parked their car and raced down the beach, screaming warnings. But it was too late. The shark had struck.

Drysdale and Till kicked off their shoes and waded into the surf towards the badly injured swimmer struggling as blood swirled around him.

Drysdale paused to call emergency services, then headed for deeper water. He and Till grabbed the swimmer’s hands and pulled him back to shore.

Then, bystanders shouted that the shark was back, and swimming directly towards the three men. Till and Drysdale were making slow progress, struggling to drag the swimmer to safety.

Suddenly, another dark shape appeared in the water: a seal, which swam between the shark and the men, then continued to circle the men as they neared the shore.

On the sand at Clovelly Corner, shark spotters who had joined Drysdale and Till in the shallows to help them tried to calm and reassure the swimmer. One shark spotter tied his belt around the stump where the shark had torn off the right leg below the knee.

Drysdale and Till did not want to speak to the media, and issued a statement through the National Sea Rescue Institute.

The NSRI said two paramedics from Cape Medical Response – NSRI Simon’s Town station commander Darren Zimmerman and Kim Yon – found a “pale and weak patient struggling to breathe with a weak, thready pulse and no blood pressure”.

The man “was fully conscious and paramedics applied oxygen and turned his body, placing his head downhill of the beach to try to bring up his blood pressure while bilateral intravenous fluid lines were set up in both arms”, the NSRI’s Craig Lambinon said yesterday.

The man’s pulse and blood pressure were far stronger by the time he was air-lifted to Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic, Lambinon added.

ER24 paramedics said part of his left calf had also been bitten off, though the leg was still intact.

Four surgeons managed to save the man’s left leg after complex emergency surgery yesterday.

Hospital spokeswoman Faye Kariem said today: “He’s in a stable but critical condition in ICU... “

The man’s name was reported elsewhere as Michael Cohen, but this could not be confirmed.

Sarah Titley of the City of Cape Town’s Shark Spotting Programme said spotters on the beach had “tried everything” to warn the swimmer.

The beach was closed at the time of the attack because white sharks had been spotted, said Gregg Oelofse of the Cape Town Environmental Management Department.

The first sighting was at 9.30am.

“The siren was sounded, and the beach was closed. It was reopened at about 9.45am, under a red flag, which goes up after a sighting, indicating there are sharks in the area.

“The sharks were sighted again at about 10.50am, and the beach was again closed, under the white ‘shark’ flag,” Oelofse said.

When the man had entered the water at Clovelly Corner one spotter ran down the beach and another drove down to Clovelly Corner, but “the shark attack had taken place”.

“When they saw him, they did try to sound the siren, but the electricity outage made this impossible.”

Cape Town was hit by a city-wide blackout at about 11am yesterday. - Cape Argus