“I’ve never felt fear like it til I was inside those jaws, with those teeth getting dragged across my body,” abalone diver Eric Nerhus told the Nine television network from his hospital bed a day after the attack off Australia’s south-east coast.
Nerhus, 41, was partly swallowed by the 9-foot shark when it attacked at less than three feet below the surface, but said he managed to fight his way free by jabbing the shark’s eye with his free left hand.
Nerhus said he was collecting abalone when the shark struck, knocking the regulator, which supplies oxygen, from his mouth and leaving him inside the shark’s open jaws and throat.
“I put my left arm down the side of its face because my head and shoulders and right arm were right down in its throat. Half my body was in its mouth,” Nerhus said.
“I felt down to the eye socket with my stiff fingers. I poked my fingers into the eye socket, which the shark reacted to in a way that it opened its mouth a bit, and I just tried to wriggle out,” he said.
As he pulled his head from the shark’s mouth, it crushed his goggles against his face, leaving Nerhus with a broken nose.
In shark's grip for 2 minutes
He estimated he was in the shark’s grip for up to two minutes. Once free, he grabbed his regulator for air and began to surface slowly, worried the shark circling him would attack again.
“It was just circling around my flippers, around and around in tight circles,” he said. “As I was coming up out of the water, it was coming up under my legs.”
Nerhus was pulled from the water by his son and other divers in their fishing boat before being flown to hospital, where he was treated for lacerations around his body and his broken nose.
The diver said he was lucky to survive, but he was determined not to die in the jaws of a shark.
“I couldn’t think of a worse way to go than to end up as fish food. That’s why I fought back. I was determined I didn’t want to go like that. I like life too much,” Nerhus said.
“I’m so fortunate that my survival instincts and reflexes took over,” he said.