‘The fear of God in his eyes’: Spearfisher’s shark escape
Separated from his boat and close to exhaustion, spearfisherman Matt Smith thought the end had come when a two-metre bull shark began to circle him.
Mr Smith and his mate Blake Clarke had been diving off Broughton Island, north of Newcastle, last Boxing Day when their vessel lost power and drifted away, leaving them stranded five kilometres out to sea.
But, unbeknown to the two friends, NSW Police Marine Area Command officers had been alerted to the emergency by a flare and rescued the pair after they had spent more than three hours trying to swim back to shore with the shark in pursuit.
Senior Constable Glen Young, who helped oversee the operation with his colleague Senior Constable Nick Leach, told The Daily Telegraph that Mr Smith had flung himself onto their boat like a petrified marlin.
"Matt ejected onto the boat like a marlin - he had the fear of god in his eyes, he just ejected from the water and landed on the back deck - it was incredible," Senior Constable Young said.
"They both had looked death in the eye and they were just relieved to be on our boat.
"It's a very well-known breeding ground for juvenile sharks - white sharks and tiger sharks."
Mr Smith, 36, of Berkeley Vale, said he and Mr Clarke had initially taken refuge on a rocky outcrop when they first became cut off from their boat.
Their third friend Damian Phillips, who had remained on board their drifting vessel until he was also rescued, had let off the flare which had alerted police.
"We just got complacent, we were really relaxed, I managed to shoot a kingfish of a decent size and I swam up to the top looking for the boat and was thinking where's the boat … I was like oh my god, I can't see it," Mr Smith said.
"I'm telling you, I was scared s***less, I'm not going to lie."
Mr Smith said he and Mr Clarke decided to try and swim the five kilometres back to shore but quickly grew fatigued when the shark started to circle them.
He credits NSW Police with saving his life and also said their dive float made it easier for officers to find them.
"You could imagine the thoughts we were having, I thought we were going to get eaten or drown," Mr Smith said.
"I looked up and saw the blue and red lights, that feeling, I tell you … I've got goosebumps just remembering it."
Originally published as 'He had the fear of God in his eyes': Spearfisher's shark escape