North East man swam for his life in near-death brush with four-metre shark

John Craig when he was reunited with wife Emma.
John Craig when he was reunited with wife Emma.

A North East man has told of how he swam four-and-a-half miles for his life after he was followed by a four-metre shark.

John Craig, 34, was out spearfishing in Western Australia when he became separated from his boat which had suffered mechanical difficulties.

John Craig after he was rescued.

John Craig after he was rescued.

On surfacing, the boat, which was crewed by a friend, had gone and after staying in the same spot waiting for it to return, splashing and shouting for help.

John, who moved to Shark Bay two years ago from Ayton in Washington, then noticed a huge tiger shark within arm's reach.

He said: "It was easily the biggest tiger shark I’ve been in the water with and that’s saying something having worked as a dive instructor for over 10 years.

"I quickly turned and saw another large sandbar whaler circling behind me and it was at that point I decided to give up on getting to the boat and save myself.

John Craig after he was rescued.

John Craig after he was rescued.

"It was obvious the sharks had been attracted by my splashing and panicking so I knew immediately that I had to try to calm down in order to survive.

"I watched the tiger shark circle and then suddenly approach me multiple times from different angles.

"It was definitely trying to work out what I was and whether I could be 'on the menu', but each time it approached I used my spear gun to block its path.

"At no point did I touch the shark as I didn’t want to upset it with a prod from the spear and make a bad situation worse.

John Craig.

John Craig.

"After about two minutes of this dance I thought 'I have to get out of here' and started swimming for shore.

"The red cliffs of Francois Peron National Park were very low on the horizon and I knew it was going to be a long swim."

The experienced diver began a long swim back to shore.

"The tiger shark was still curious as ever and began following me as I started swimming," John said.

"I have to admit that at this point I thought I was gone – four nautical miles out to sea with a huge tiger shark following me – I thought this was it, this is how I’m going to die.

"The shark would disappear into the gloom then suddenly reappear behind me, just keeping pace with me behind my fins.

"Once my heart rate had slowed and I was in a rhythm with my swimming, the shark stopped approaching me and actually started cruising beside me almost like a whale shark.

"For about 500m the shark swam on the same path as me towards the shore and then in a moment banked and disappeared completely as if to say 'you’re okay now I’ll leave you alone'.

John swam for around three hours, and though a full-scale search had been launched to find him, rescuers were unable to see him due to his camouflage wetsuit.

He said: "The shark was gone but I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t return.

"The next part was pure endurance; I had to swim constantly looking around from all angles to make sure there wasn’t an unwelcome visitor, with my speargun pointed behind me to stop anything grabbing my fins."

When he finally reached the shore, John was exhausted. The search plane was out to sea and the boats were too far away to be able to flag down.

He said: "I started walking north hoping to get to the camp site at Cattlewell where I could possibly find someone and get a message to everyone that I was ok. I just thought about my wife and how worried she’d be. I just wanted to tell her I was alive."

After an hour of walking, he heard the plane return and ran to the middle of the beach and waved his arms in the air. The pilot began to circle to signal to the boats that he had been found. John was then reunited with his wife, Emma.

"This was the worst thing I've experienced since the 1998 play off final against Charlton," said.

John would like to thank everyone involved in his rescue – Shark Bay VMR, the Police, Shark Bay Aviation, SES, Fisheries, Ocean Park, Shark Bay Dive and all the volunteers who joined the search.

He added: " I feel extremely lucky to be alive and was blown away by the Shark Bay community's efforts to rescue me.

"You can't be complacent at sea. Even in calm conditions with good weather things can go bad in minutes. I should have put the anchor down and it would have saved a lot of people a lot of time and effort.

"I don't want people to be put off coming to Shark Bay to dive and snorkel. It is safe and beautiful. I was in the water for over 3 hours, the pilot spotted heaps of big sharks in the area and even the 4m tiger that was curious didn't try to bite me.

"If the circumstances were different I would have been stoked to have that experience."