“Am I going to die Dad, am I going to die?” This is what my partner’s 10-year-old daughter kept asking him as he carried her on his back as fast as he could over the rocks to the nearby dinghy. She had just been attacked by a two and a half metre salt water crocodile and he was trying to get her back to our cat Hard Yakka which was anchored two kilometres down the Sale river. This near disaster happened in October 2005 in the remote Kimberley area of Doubtful Bay. I had got off the boat in Broome and flew home to Ireland for my sister’s wedding. Ric, my partner, and his two kids Simon and Chantal, along with a friend Peter from Switzerland were sailing from Broome to Port Douglas hoping to be there by December 25. (I was flying back on Christmas Day).
They had enjoyed the trip so far stopping at places like Lombardina, Cape Leveque, The Pool, Crocodile Creek, Silvergull Creek, all the usual places. It was a fairly uneventful trip. The only mishap been when Ric anchored in 30 metres of water in King Sound and had been unable to retrieve the anchor. The only option had been to put on a tank and go down and free it. He admits that this was one of the worse dives he has had to make as the area has some big tiger sharks and even bigger crocodiles. However he freed it up and all went well.
They spent a night in the middle of Montogomery Reef which was interesting to say the least. If you go there take plenty of mossy and sandfly repellent and mind the crocs. From here they sailed over to Raft Point on the entrance to Doubtful Bay and the following morning motored up the Sale river approximately 15 miles and anchored in a hole 12 metres deep about one to two kilometres from the rock ledge. They took the dinghy on the high tide up as far as the large rocks, where fresh water and salt water meet and climbed up to the billabong at the top.
Now six years previously Ric and myself had spent two days in this pool and had swum its whole length. So he was sure in his mind that there were no salties in there. However for extra caution they spent 20 minutes laying in the shallow water with the dog happily swimming with us. He watched very carefully and could see no sign of any crocs, plenty of fish but nothing else. Peter was casting a lure in the salt water down stream as the kids, Ric and Shrek (the dog) wandered 100 metres up the pool where it narrowed down to approximately seven metres wide. The water was deeper here probably four to six metres. Simon and Chantal both had goggles on. Simon jumped in and Ric followed him. They swam about with Simon snorkelling for about five minutes. Chantal then jumped in as well after getting assurance from her dad that it was safe. Ric then climbed out on the far side and was standing in ankle deep water on a rock ledge. Chantal was trying to persuade Shrek to jump in the water but for some reason he wouldn’t jump the one and a half metres down into the water. Ric told Chantal not to worry about the dog and to come over to him.
In an instant she disappeared under the water, no sound - nothing. He remembers shouting at Simon to get her out and tell her to stop messing about. Simon looked down, screamed and swam for the shore. Ric could now see Chantal about two metres under the water. Her face was looking up at him and her right arm was reaching up. He knew a croc must have taken her but his mind refused to say it. Ric jumped in the water catching her arm and struggling against the croc to get her above the surface. He got her head above the water but it was like lifting a huge weight as the croc still had a hold of her. Simon was still on the shore and Ric called for him to help as he knew he couldn’t free her all by himself. To Simon’s credit he overcame his fear and jumped in, hitting the croc on the head. The croc let go of Chantal and Ric dragged her ashore. He could see two deep wounds on her left arm which had meat hanging out of them and blood on her chest, back and legs. The croc had by now come back and was just below the surface hoping for a second chance. Chantal looked at her arm and saw the meat and started to panic. “My insides are coming out and I’m going to die, she kept screaming. Ric got her to look at him and persuaded her to slow down her breathing and to say over and over again “I’m going to be alright.” He lifted her rashie and could see puncture wounds across her chest and back and tears in her thighs and buttocks. He explained to her that he would carry her to the dinghy and that they would get help for her. As he was carrying her back she kept asking him if she was going to die. The worse thing was that Chantal had been wearing goggles in the pool and throughout the whole ordeal. It must have been terrifying for her to see the croc with its jaws around her trying to drown her and eat her.
It took them about 20 minutes to get back to Hard Yakka. They pulled anchor and Ric had Peter take the boat down the river as he tended to Chantal’s wounds as best he could. As soon as Ric had poured Betedine all over the wounds and put dressings on them he put a ‘PAN PAN’ out on the HF emergency frequencies. His ‘PAN PAN’ was picked up by both Darwin and Port Hedland.
They had a small mustering helicopter at the boat within two hours of first contact. Considering that we were in a remote a spot as you can find this was fantastic. The chopper took her to Mt Hart station where a doctor flew a chopper from Fitzroy Crossing and looked after Chantal till the following morning when an RFDS plane took her to Derby hospital. Ric then took Hard Yakka back to Cockatoo Island where the people there bent over backwards to help.
They flew him and his son Simon from the island to Derby and back in a chartered light plane. Chantal spent a week in Derby hospital. Her wounds couldn’t be sewn up for a few days as the doctors wanted to make sure that no infections were in the bites. But she was going to be alright. Simon and Ric sailed Hard Yakka onto Darwin stopping at many beautiful spots on the way but not delaying. Chantal joined them about three weeks later after they had arrived in Darwin and continued on with them to Port Douglas. Her wounds have now healed but as would be expected she is quite fearful of the water.