Shark attack victim's partner watched on
Darren Mills counts himself lucky.
Lucky to have good friends who managed to think quick enough to put a tourniquet on his leg, lucky that there was a doctor and paramedic on the beach on Friday night and lucky to still have his leg.
Mills was surfing in Curio Bay on Friday night with a couple of mates when his night took a turn for the worse.
He’d been in the water just 30 minutes when he felt a ‘‘huge knock’’ to his board and looked to see a shark with its jaws wrapped around his leg and surf board.
‘‘I felt something just hit me from the beach side. But because I was paddling, I was lucky the shark bit the board. I reckon I could have died.’’
He tried to break free from the shark, shaking his leg and pushing it away.
‘‘I managed to push it as hard as I could. It seemed to let go. I saw it go off and then I realised I was in trouble.’’
Mills shouted for help and to warn his friends who were 30 metres away, and headed for shore where his partner Karen Thomson, had watched the attack take place.
While his friends managed to get the first wave back to the beach, Mills didn’t, and was left in the water hoping the shark didn’t return.
‘‘I was just worried he was going to come back.
‘‘When we got back on to the beach after the shark I was really scared that I was going to die.’’
He got ‘‘dragged up’’ to the beach on his board and his friend managed to put a tourniquet on his leg, while others called for help.
Onlookers on the beach rushed to his aid, including a doctor and a paramedic. ‘‘They stopped the bleeding and felt a pulse in that leg. It was reassuring.’’
Mills was bleeding so much from the four lacerations in his legs that a helicopter was called and he was rushed to Southland Hospital.
It was the longest time of his life waiting for the rescue helicopter to arrive, he said. ‘‘I guess it felt like forever.’’
Mills was not out of the woods though and mid-way through his flight to Southland Hospital he could tell things were not good.
‘‘I could feel the warmth go [in my leg], then my blood pressure dropped.
‘‘I was worried I was going to lose my leg. I got here [hospital] and I was just really happy that I had needles in me.’’
He was rushed into surgery to have the four lacerations sewn up. With ‘‘quite a bit’’ of muscle damage, it was thought Mills would have to have two surgeries, but instead was expected to recover with just one.
Yesterday, he remained in hospital, with stitches up his right leg, where the shark attacked.
Despite still clearly being in pain from the attack and the surgery, he planned to return to the water at some stage.
‘‘When it first happened, I was like, I don’t want to go into a bath tub.’’
Mills and Thomson said they just wanted to say thank you to everyone who helped.
‘‘They were just so helpful, it could have been just so different. Lucky is just definitely the word.’’
Mills, who is ‘‘really curious’’ about sharks, said he believed the shark was a baby great white. ‘‘I’m pretty sure it was a small great white because of the teeth marks in the board.’’
Conservation Department marine scientist and shark expert Clinton Duffy said it was likely to be a baby great white.
‘‘They are really common.’’ While the small ones didn’t traditionally eat large mammals, they were ‘‘chasing animals’’.
But Duffy said there was little way of avoiding shark attacks.
‘‘Stop surfing, but if you don’t want to do that then avoid areas with lots of dolphins and seals.’’
The only comfort is that, on average there is only about two shark attacks in New Zealand a year, and so far, this is the second attack in Southland.