‘The water around me was turning red’: The blood-curdling tales of people who came face-to-face with sharks and other killer predators – and lived to tell the tale
- After being attacked by a shark in 2011, Dave Pearson started the Bite Club
- The support group helps people who have had violent encounters with all kinds of wild animals, including lions and bears
- These are some of the most terrifying stories, compiled by author Douglas Wight
In March 2011, 48-year-old Dave Pearson was surfing in his native Australia when he was suddenly pulled from his board by a 10-foot bull shark.
Pearson grappled with the beast as it pulled him beneath the waves, and after miraculously freeing himself from its razor-sharp jaws, he paddled desperately to shore, his raw muscles hanging from the bones of his forearm.
Dave survived the attack and doctors were able to save his arm, but in the following months he began to suffer from severe PTSD. Finding few around who could relate to his ordeal – but knowing there were many out there probably suffering in similar isolation – Pearson founded an online support group for fellow shark attack victims.
He named it the Bite Club.
As the group grew, it became clear that victims of shark attacks weren’t the only ones in need of help, and soon people who had been mauled by all manner of wild animals – including bears, lions, and wolves – were invited to share their experiences with the group and support one another.
Now, the stories of 14 Bite Club members have been compiled in a book by author Douglas Wight – Bite Club: Real-life attacks by sharks and other killer predators. These are some of their tales.
Dave Pearson in hospital after being attacked by a shark – he founded the Bite Club
Pearson had just bought a brand new 6-foot-4-inch, cream surfboard. It was March 23, 20ll, and even though the sun started its descent, he still had a few hours of daylight and was eager to take his new prize for a spin in the ocean.
At the beach, Pearson met up with a few friends and they hit the waves together. After riding a few, Pearson was getting the feel of his board, and as he was preparing to jump into another swell in about 16 feet of water, the shark struck.
‘From just over to my right side, something came up from underneath. Whatever it was must have been moving fast, and it came at me, hitting the surfboard on the way up,’ Pearson told Wight.
‘It continued out of the water with my surfboard in its mouth, then flipped over the top and went back into the water, trapping my left arm between its top jaws and the surfboard. Its nose hit my right temple, nearly knocking me out.
‘My next memory is being deep underwater. There were lots of bubbles and something browny-grey was in front of me, thrashing around. I had no idea what was going on. When we hit the bottom, after thrashing for a bit, it let me go.
‘Getting back to my senses, I swam back to the surface and climbed on to my board. Only then did I look at my arm: a massive amount of flash was hanging off. My forearm muscles were hanging to one side with all the skin that holds it together. Blood was squirting out quite a distance. The water around me was turning red.’
Dave Pearson’s arm after it was put back together following his violent shark attack
Pearson said starting the Bite Club was more life-changing than his shark attack
One of his friends paddling nearby heard a loud smack, and looking over he thought he saw a dolphin jump out of the water right where Pearson had just been. As their friend was being tossed limply around in the waves, the bystanders rushed to his aid and dragged him to shore.
The group was 40 minutes to the nearest hospital, and after wrapping Pearson’s arm in a towel to stem the bleeding, they opted to wait there for an ambulance rather than risk having their friend bleed out on the way to the hospital. Paramedics arrived nearly an hour after the attack and stabilized him at the beach before airlifting him to a hospital.
Pearson’s arm was saved, and within months he returned to the waves but struggled with PTSD.
To help cope, he started the Bite Club and spent the next 11 years sharing his experience with other animal attack survivors, and listening to their stories.
Now 60 years old, Pearson told Wight that starting the Bite Club was more life-changing than his attack.
‘I have something better than my shark attack,’ he said. ‘I’ve got a whole family of animal attack survivors that I get to see their lives getting better.’
Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curzi was attacked by a black bear in her Lake Tahoe cabin
Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curzi
Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curzi, 67, grew up in the mountains of California and was well acquainted with its dangers.
Her grandfather had owned a gold mine in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and during countless camping trips with her friends and family over the years she learned firsthand how to steer clear of the bear populations that filled the range.
She and her husband owned a cabin in Lake Tahoe, where they would often retreat during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the risk she faced from the B-cell lymphoma cancer she was battling.
One night in October 2021, Laurel-Rose was sleeping alongside her husband when she heard a loud crash in the kitchen. Delirious with sleep, she went down to see what was happening.
Laurel-Rose had her face torn open by a black bear
‘The only light was a very dim glow from the open side-by-side freezer door, illuminating the back of a standing – and very large – black bear,’ she told Wight.
‘It was taking things out of the freezer and flinging them on the floor. That was what was creating the loud, pounding, crashing sound. The bear, apparently, did not like frozen meat.’
Before Laurel-Rose had a moment to do anything about the situation, the bear was on her.
‘It turned, saw me and flew at me. There was no real pause, no real time to do all the things that people counsel you to do. I opened the door, walked over, saw it was a bear and it just flew at me.
‘I saw one large paw before he started tearing me up. I couldn’t see anything. I could just feel what were like knives and blades gripping me. He tore my face wide open and right all over my neck – my breast, my abdomen, the back of my arm, my back.
‘It was just… awful… absolutely terrifying… this powerful creature attacking me in the absolute darkness.’
Laure-Rose told Wight how she started screaming and couldn’t stop. But it wasn’t the pain that was making her scream – she said childbirth had been far worse – it was the ‘endless terror’ that had taken hold of her.
‘I had no idea what or where he would claw or bite next. I could not see anything. I had no idea when or how it would end.’
The bear eventually left her alone, but not before it turned back around for another charge. Laurel-Rose tossed a blanket across its head which confused it, and by then her husband and son had emerged and the bear left.
Lauren Fagen’s trip of a lifetime in South Africa turned into a nightmare
At 18 years old, Lauren Fagen traveled from her home in Canada to South Africa for a month of volunteer work at the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
There she would be feeding and cleaning the enclosures of injured animals like elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, honey badgers and lions.
She hoped it would be the trip of a lifetime, but when she arrived she found the center was poorly run, with conflicting protocols and questionable safety measures.
One day she was tasked with cleaning out the feeding enclosures of a pair of lions – which consisted of a small pen where staff would stand that was separated from the lions’ paddock by a barred barrier.
While in the pen, one of the lions sauntered up to the barrier and leaned against the bars, which Lauren said were much farther apart than they were on other enclosures. As Lauren cleaned, the big cat began to stretch its paws and knead the ground with its claws while it followed her with its eyes.
Suddenly, the big cat reached through the bars, and though Lauren was nearly backed up against the far wall, the lion swiped her leg with a claw.
As Lauren tried to kick the lion off, it grabbed her other leg and pulled her through the bars up to the groin
When staff rushed into the enclosure to help Lauren, the second lion joined the fray and started biting her foot.
‘Before I could react, he got me with the top of his nail into the middle of my right calf. It was like butter, it went right in. I felt a thud – he had pulled me on to my back, I hit the ground and was looking up at the ceiling,’ she told Wight.
‘I was wearing grey sweatpants and he sliced through them, like craft scissors through a car. He sliced open my leg. It looked like what you would see at the butcher, like something from a dead cow that would hang from the ceiling.’
As Lauren tried to kick the lion off her, it grabbed her other leg and pulled her through the bars up to the groin, then began to go after her with its mouth. When staff rushed into the enclosure to help Lauren, the second lion joined the fray and started biting her foot.
‘From what I understand, partly from what people have told me, they made a chain of people, with the coordinator first, holding each other under their armpits, and, step by step, they pulled me back,’ she told Wight.
‘Other people took buckets and brooms to make a noise and stab the brooms through the bars to push the lions away. They eventually pulled me outside the enclosure. I looked at my hands which were shaking, with all the blood on them, and I screamed.’
Though Lauren’s legs and feet were severely mauled by the lions, she wound up making a full recovery. Despite her injuries, she told Wight that one of the most traumatizing effects of the incident was the public’s reaction.
The media latched on to a story that Lauren had been trying to kiss the lion when it attacked her – which she denied ever happened – and attributed quotes to her, which she never said.
She told Wight that joining the Bite Club was an invaluable refuge to talk not just about the trauma of her attack but of the media firestorm that followed.
‘It is really nice to be able to relate to people about the terrors of the media that ensued after. It made me become a more careful speaker because anything you say can be twisted or cut.’
A 28-year-old high school English teacher from Australia, Sam Kellett was spearfishing with his friend Wyatt Raymount at Goldsmith Beach in February 2014 when he was attacked by what Wyatt is convinced was a great white shark
A 28-year-old high school English teacher from Australia, Sam Kellett was spearfishing with his friend Wyatt Raymount at the country’s Goldsmith Beach in February 2014.
As the waves began to grow choppy, the group decided to return to shore and head to dinner, when the unthinkable happened.
‘I remember it vividly,’ he says.
‘I was on the surface, probably about four to five meters to the west of Sam. I was swimming along with him, facing out to the ocean. I could see fish hanging around my flasher on the float. I was looking at those and just seeing what was around when I heard an ear-piercing scream.
‘I looked up and the water was foaming red. Then I looked under the water and that’s when I saw quite a big white shark in the exact spot where Sam had been.’
Raymount said he was positive the shark he saw was a great white, and that it was nearly 20 feet long.
After they rushed to shore, the group contacted authorities, who soon arrived on the scene to search for Kellett. But no remains were ever found.
‘The only thing they found of Sam were those weights from his belt, his speargun and a float he had. That was it. That was all they recovered.’
Raymount said he was positive the shark he saw was a great white, and that it was nearly 20 feet long.
‘The only thing they found of Sam were those weights from his belt, his speargun and a float he had’.
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