‘Not quitting’: Shark attack survivor returns to the water
The last time Rick Bettua got into his wetsuit, a paramedic with a pair of shears had to cut it off - part of a massive effort to save his life after a bull shark tore out the back of his leg.
This week, he put one back on for the first time, five months after being injured so badly, it took 14 units of blood and a huge surgical team to save him.
It was October 25 and Rick, along with his mate Pete Kocica, were spearfishing in deep water on Britomart Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef.
Rick had just taken a shot at a Maori Sea Perch when a large bull shark speared towards him, taking two bites from his upper left leg.
He swam for the surface and pulled himself into Pete's boat, telling his mate he had just three minutes to apply a makeshift tourniquet before he bled to death.
Rick, a former US Navy master diver, had done years of combat medical training and knew his odds of survival - 90 minutes from the nearest boat ramp - were incredibly low.
But thanks to the incredible efforts of Pete, a massive team of paramedics, doctors, a helicopter crew and a larger fishing boat that powered him back to shore, Rick miraculously survived.
Rick, who still needs surgery to give him movement in his left foot, got back in the water for the first time on Wednesday at Yamacutta Reef, off Mission Beach.
He said he took four tourniquets with him after having to use a weight belt to slow the bleeding when he was attacked last year.
"I actually just went for a cray dive … cray diving is just shallow - two to five metres," he said.
"It's usually pretty clear, so you can see anything coming.
"It was a good day. It was good to get back in."
Rick said the shallow water dive was a good reintroduction to the sport he has loved for decades.
"I'm not going to say I didn't think about it (the attack)," he said.
"I wasn't super comfortable because I couldn't hold my breath for (long). You have to be comfortable to hold your breath.
"And I kept looking behind me a lot.
"But for a first day, it was great and will get nothing but better."
The veteran diver, who has 50 years of spearfishing experience, said his left foot lasted only about 20 minutes before fatigue set in.
Rick suffers from "drop foot", meaning the damage to his leg prevents him from being able to lift up his foot. Surgeons hope to repair it by moving tendons from one side of his foot to the other.
He said he was looking forward to working with an Australian company that is producing a "shark proof" wetsuit, using Dyneema.
"I am supposed to be the first one to get one here in Australia, so I'll feel a lot better when I'm wearing something like that," Rick said.
"To me - and I'm just speaking for me here - it's OK if I want to quit this sport because I no longer love the sport, but it's not OK to quit because I'm scared of something.
"I still love the sport and I don't intend on quitting the sport because I got bit by a shark."
Originally published as 'Not quitting': Shark attack survivor returns to the water