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‘Panicking’ diver fended huge tiger shark off with spear gun on long swim ashore

UK News | Published:

John Craig’s cries for help attracted one of Shark Bay’s killer residents.

British diver John Craig hugs his wife following the ordeal

A British diver has told how he was forced to fend off a 13ft (4m) tiger shark with a spear gun as it followed him during a 4.7-mile (7.5km) swim to the Australian shore.

John Craig said he had been spearfishing with a friend near Shark Bay in Western Australia when he got into difficulty and lost sight of his boat.

The 34-year-old, who is reportedly originally from Sunderland but moved to Australia two years ago, described his panic as he was left stranded alone in open water.

“I was trying to splash and scream and shout to get my friend’s attention,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“All of the splashing, I could feel my heart rate up because I was panicking that I had been left, and after about five or 10 minutes of this I just put my head in the water to check I was still in the same place, and then at arm’s reach there was this huge 4m tiger shark.

“It was at that moment I realised I have just got to forget about the boat and go totally into survival mode.

“I just kept my head in the water, watched what the big tiger shark was doing, and it kept coming back towards me. It would circle me and kind of dart in and I just had to use my spear gun to try and fend it off and try and keep it at a safe distance.

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“I knew the boat wasn’t coming back, so my only option was to swim to shore, and I knew it was 7.5km (4.7 miles) to get to the beach, and that’s an awful long swim with a 4m long tiger shark.”

Mr Craig, who has worked as diving instructor for 10 years, said the shark followed him as he swam towards the shore.

“I started to swim away and then the shark just kept pace behind me, so every time I looked back I could see its huge head right next to my fins and I just had my spear gun pointed at my fins so it couldn’t get close enough to actually touch them, and then it would disappear into the gloom, it would go down and then try and come up below me and up from the sides.

“It was all because I was panicking.”

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Tiger shark
(David Cheskin/PA)

Mr Craig said he tried to calm himself down and after a few minutes the shark accelerated and started swimming beside him.

He added: “It was just swimming with me, next to me. It was just one of the most surreal experiences because it was no longer trying to get me, it was kind of escorting me to shore.”

But Mr Craig still faced a swim of “around three hours” to get back to safety, reaching the shore in an isolated location exhausted and barely able to stand.

“I just thought about my wife and how worried she’d be. I just wanted to tell her I was alive,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Luckily he was spotted from the air and was picked up by a boat from the Shark Bay Volunteer Marine Rescue.

Despite the harrowing experience that, by his own admission, he was lucky to survive, Mr Craig said he does not want to put people off Shark Bay as a diving and snorkelling destination.

“These animals are apex predators but we are not ‘on the menu’, he said. We need them in the oceans and, as much as it was scary at the time, I can only reflect on how beautiful that big female tiger shark was.”

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