A heroic husband jumped on the back of a great white shark and punched the predator to try to stop its frenzied attack on his wife as they were surfing on a NSW beach on Saturday.
Witnesses in the water said Mark Rapley’s astonishing bravery saved his partner Chantelle Doyle’s life when she was attacked by a shark which “wouldn’t let go” at Shelly Beach at Port Macquarie about 9.30am.
The two to three metre long great white inflicted serious bite injuries to Chantelle’s calf and thigh.
Surfer Peter Lobb said he heard a “piercing scream” come from his left when the shark attacked as Chantelle, 35, was sitting on her board in small surf.
Fellow witness Jed Toohey said: “It was unbelievable, the scream was incredible and there was splashing everywhere.
“Mark, her partner, got her up on the board.
“Mark was a hero. He started laying into the shark because it wouldn’t let go.”
Mr Toohey said Mark put his life at risk to save Chantelle.
“He saved her life. He got off his board and started punching the shark,” Mr Toohey said.
“If he hadn’t put his own life at risk, it would have been strong enough to take her out to sea. “He was really incredible.”
Mr Lobb said five surfers — including himself, Mr Toohey and his 16-year-old daughter Dominica and Mark Swan and Paul Munro — were in the water nearby at the time near Chantelle and Mark, who he said was from Sydney.
“We all paddled straight towards Chantelle,” he said.
The shark retreated and the group managed to catch a wave in and help Chantelle to shore where she was put in the recovery position.
A woman walking along the beach assisted the group with securing a leg rope tourniquet to Chantelle’s leg to stem the bleeding.
“We wrapped a leg rope around her upper thigh because we could see gashes on her calf and a big one on her thigh,” Mr Lobb said.
Chantelle was lifted on Mr Lobb’s longboard, before the group walked her down to the south end of the beach, where an ambulance was already waiting.
“It was about a kilometre up to the car park,” Mr Lobb said.
“Chantelle kept saying, ‘I’m okay’. She was so calm and relaxed. But then her leg started to get numb.
“We were telling her: ‘You’re brave and strong’.”
Mr Lobb said Chantelle made a joke to lighten the mood and said: ‘I’m only 60 kilos, you lift more in the gym’.”
Chantelle was taken to Port Macquarie Base Hospital before being flown to John Hunter Hospital by rescue helicopter. She was in a stable condition with significant leg injuries on Saturday.
Lifeguards have closed Flynns Beach, Town Beach, Nobbys Beach, Tacking Point and Shelly Beach and will remain closed until Port Macquarie-Hastings Council decides to reopen them.
A great white shark was involved in an attack at nearby Lighthouse Beach in 2015. It is the third attack — two of them fatal — on a surfer in NSW this year.
Surf Life Saving NSW chief executive officer Steven Pearce said surfers had come to her assistance and helped her to shore.
Mr Pearce said her partner “literally jumped on its back and hit it to release”.
“Our thoughts go to the young lady. It’s absolutely terrifying to be involved in such an incident.”
Mr Pearce said SMART drum lines were off Port Macquarie beach, with listening devices alerting authorities to tagged sharks if they swam in the area.
“This year there has been a high prevalence of shark encounters,” he said.
“We don’t know at this point whether the shark was tagged or not.”
Mr Pearce, a surfer himself, said beachgoers must be “shark smart”.
“Everyone has to accept we enter the domain of any sea creatures. We have to be shark smart,” he said.
“Realistically we shouldn’t be surfing at dusk or at dawn. But most attacks we’ve seen this year have been at all times of the day, so it’s difficult.”
Shark attacks have doubled over the past two decades and 2020 is shaping up as a horror year with five fatalities so far.
Mani Hart-Deville, 15, was attacked as he surfed with his mates at Wilsons Headland near Wooli Beach, just before 2.30pm on July 11.
Mani, from nearby Minnie Water, died on the sand from injuries to his legs after he was brought to shore, despite desperate efforts to revive him.