Shark attack surfer friend hailed a hero

Published: November 9, 2007 | 6824th good news item since 2003

THE parents of the Bonza Bay shark attack victim yesterday praised their son’s surfing buddy for his courage during the ordeal with the four-metre Great White shark.

Rob and Carol Mellin, of Dorchester Heights, believe that, had it not been for Leigh Stolworthy’s act of bravery when their son Lee was attacked, “things could have been a lot worse”.

Yesterday, the Mellins called Stolworthy a “hero” and said they felt he deserved the highest possible honour because he displayed the “epitome of courage”.

Mellin said he deserves a mayoral citation for his bravery: “We are certain that if it were not for his selfless act of courage there could have been far more disastrous consequences.”

Stolworthy and Lee were riding the waves at Bonza Bay at about 8.45am on Saturday when they were attacked by the shark, which the East London aquarium yesterday confirmed was a Great White.

Lee escaped with only a 38cm wound down his left thigh as the shark burst through the water, shattering his surfboard..

Stolworthy stayed with Lee throughout the ordeal and helped him to the beach.

Mellin said Stolworthy could have swum away when the shark attacked his son, but instead stayed with him throughout the ordeal, guiding him back to shore and driving him to hospital.

“What a selfless act. He is a hero. He did not say ‘every man for himself’, but instead he kept on assuring Lee that the shark was gone and that everything was going to be OK.”

Stolworthy said he didn’t regard himself as a hero – anyone in his situation would have done the same.

“I don’t think I did anything exceptional,” he said modestly. “At the time we were in it together.”

Reliving the attack, Stolworthy said he felt helpless when it all played out like in a movie. “I went cold when I saw the shark. I knew it was death swimming towards us, but there was nothing we could do. It was really a sickening feeling watching helplessly.”

The only time he experienced fear was when he first saw the shark – after that he was “beyond fear”.

He recalled seeing the shark’s full face when it lunged out of the water and went for Lee instead of him.

The shark was on his side first and then swam around towards Mellin before attacking him. “I think he saw my chicken bones and decided he’d much rather have steak,” joked the 38-year-old transport engineer.

“It wasn’t really a powerful attack; it’s almost as if it was testing what it was biting first.”

But there was no joking at the time: “After it had bitten Lee, it disappeared for a while, resurfaced and then it was gone. It never even crossed my mind to leave Lee.”

Mellin, who was discharged from hospital yesterday and is recovering at home, had earlier also thanked Stolworthy for remaining by his side.

Buffalo City marine services chief Siani Tinley said measurements and tooth patterns indicated a shark around four metres.

Published in Life
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