07/12/2000 Christian Eckhoff (South of Tonga)

Shark Attack Survivors News Archive for Shark Attacks in 2000.

07/12/2000 Christian Eckhoff (South of Tonga)

Postby sharkbait » Tue Jul 17, 2007 9:11 pm

Christian Eckhoff- Shark Attack by Grey Reef Shark
Last year we sailed to Kermadec island on a diving trip.

From there to Minerwa Reef about 260 miles South/west of Tonga, a super diving spot. I have been there often, one of my favourites. This time we got more excitement than planned!

On the 3rd days diving, I had an argument with a grey reef shark. I shot a 6kg grouper for the pot in about 60 feet. When I got to the surface l started pulling the grouper up, not much fight, I shot him well. A grey about 5 feet long came in like lightning. I did not have the gun in my hands as I was busy pulling the fish up. The grey ignored the fish and came straight for me, [he covered the 60 feet in about 3 seconds]. He got my left arm, I punched him on the eyes and head with my right fist. He let go and came around me to my right side. I had him under my right arm like we were wrestling. I punched him in the belly with my left which was badly mauled,[you could see the bones] he then left me.

At that stage I was swimming in a red blood cloud. I decided to get to the inflatable as quickly as possible before his partners joined the scrap. I could not see the shark as there was too much blood in the water. {My diving buddies where busy swimming towards me with the dinghy in tow from about 60 meters away. Not too far away, but too far to get the shark off me!!} The shark had one more go at me, into my back, but bit into my dive belt weights. That put him off. I managed to pull myself into the dinghy and was pretty groggy. My diving crew, Ryan Green from Durban SA , ripped a speargun rubber off one gun and made a tight tourniquet around the left arm, by that time I had lost a lot of blood! We than raced back to my Yacht "Donella". Here is an interesting observation;before leaving the scene, I said to Ryan "get my speargun out the water". He quickly pulled it in, and to our surprise the grouper was still on the spear. The shark never touched it, he just wanted to show me who is the boss around Minerwa Reef!![Territorial Dispute?]

When we arrived at Donella I managed to get into the cockpit and lay down to get my diving suit off etc. We had some luck on our side. The day before the accident a 60foot Kiwi Yacht "Sea Toy" on route to Tonga had come into Minerwa Reef, to do some fishing and have a bit of a rest. They wanted to leave early that morning but got delayed, that was my good luck!! One of the Kiwis on board, "Kevin", came over to us quickly as soon as they heard Shark Attack. He told me he had just completed an advanced first aid course with the Auckland Coast Guard and would patch me up""My arm was a mess and my right hand was badly cut, I must have touched his teeth when I hit him on the head. Kevin did a great job.He could not stop the bleeding at first. He got hold of a Doctor P. Bradley in Wellington on Marine Radio. The Dr advised Kevin what to do. When the Dr was told that they could not stop the bleeding he advised" tourniquet the arm off". Kevin replied that he will lose his arm and the doctors reply was, "better the arm than dying". I was not aware of all this, Kevin applied another tight bandage and managed to stop the bleeding.

I owe him a lot! While all this was going on, NZ Marine Radio had called a Mayday "all Ships within 200 Miles of Minerwa Reef" My luck was still holding out. The NZ Navy Research vessel "Resolution" was in the area. They changed course for Minerwa and advised eta next day at 20.00+ -"we will take the patient off the Yacht and take him to Nukualofa, Tonga". WE had to wait 30 hours and a floating Lazarett would be in Minerwa. By that time I was sure someone was looking after me. We got through the night ok. I have a good tolerance for pain that helped. The next morning I asked Ryan to take the dingy and go back to the spot of the attack and to try and find my diving watch. Maybe the shark had spat it out. One hour later he came back with the watch, he found it in 60feet lying on the sand. Sharks don't like watches, well done Ryan.

"Resolution" arrived in the evening, it was pitch dark, blowing 30 knots and raining. The Ship had to heave to outside. Four officers and the medic came into the reef in a big Inflatable with an inboard Diesel, what a trip. The Medic was 1st class, They did not like my condition. I assured them I could make it. Good-bye to Donella, my crew and the Sea Toy Team. They saved my arm and maybe more? In a hair-raising trip which required top class seamanship, we made it to Resolution in a 2,5m sea bouncing all over. They hoisted us, crew, myself and the inflatable by crane on deck.

It was now 10.00pm. When it was announced over the intercom" MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" the patient is on board, the whole crew broke out in a tremendous cheer. I felt humble and very grateful to everyone. The Medic and his team did a great job. They could not operate on board but cleaned and bandaged and put me on a drip. 36hrs later we arrived in Tonga. 1.00am dark, raining, blowing. Back into the dinghy, by this time we were getting quite good at it. Bye- bye and cheers from everyone, off we go into the little harbour 3miles away. When we arrive there, my daughter Heike, the NZ high Commissioner, my friend Paul Groll from Nukualofa, two Tongan Doctors and a worn out ambulance stand on the pier. Off to the Hospital. The Dr. has a look at the Medic report and tells me to come back tomorrow morning, you are ok for now. We are back in the islands!!

Paul and his Wife Edith make us welcome at their Home, tremendous hospitality, nice to have friends when you are in trouble. Next morning off to Hospital, what an EYEOPENER but they try their best. Into the theatre, Heike, Paul, myself and someone else. Nurse arrives, lets take off the bandages the Dr is coming just now. I have my doubts, but she is good and careful. After a while the Dr. comes in. 110kg of Tongan, he looks like Jonah Lomu. Sandals, Hawaiian T-shirt and slacks and happily whistling away. He looked a long time at the injury and in the end I asked him whether he thought he could fix it. He answers yes so I said please fix it. While he is operating he said, you are a very lucky man, if you were bitten by a tongan shark there would be big infections! Minerwa sharks have very clean teeth. There is no pollution around there. How lucky can you be! After cutting a lot of black looking flesh away he pronounced that it was fine, a walking miracle, everything is still working and he could close up.

That was a successful end to my episode, I realise that it could have easily gone the other way. We then phoned my wife Hannelore, she was in Holland at the time visiting our daughter Anja. Hannelore is used to excitement from my end, but this one did not go down well, but she managed quite remarkably. "Donella' was sailed to Tonga by my crew with a Skipper on loan from "Sea Toy" They immediately offered the assistance of Bruce, a good Kiwi Skipper. They sailed "Donella" to Tonga without a scratch!!

Two weeks later my friend Harald from the Yacht "Aida" flew from New Caledonia to Tonga and helped me to sail to Noumea via Minerwa Reef, where we got some Lobster, then on to Conway Reef and Walpole Isl. Harald and Ryan did the diving, I had to wait a bit.

Since then I have been diving again without any problems like sharks etc, all systems are functioning but I am a bit more careful!!

I have often thought about the attack, what could I have done differently. I did not have the gun in my hands as I was pulling the fish up. Even with no spear in the gun I would have been able to get rid of him as l have done before. My partner was too far away, that was a mistake. When we started spearfishing in 1959 in Zululand and Mocambique we had lots of problems with sharks such as Zambesi, grey shovel nose, ragged tooth, oceanic white tip, black tip, Mako, hammerhead and even the great White. But the last twenty years diving in N-Zealand has been almost troublefree with sharks, so you become blasé. That was mistake no.2!! You never get too old to learn.

My resolution: It took 40 years of diving to get into trouble, I am now 69years old, if it takes another 40years for the next one, I have no Problems!!

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