'Suddenly, I felt a huge bang. I knew it was a shark ... '

A year ago Andrew Carter escaped from the jaws of death. Now he's back surfing. Sharon Feinstein finds out why
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When it comes to killer sharks Andrew Carter is probably the world's leading human guinea pig. He is the only man to have survived a double attack by a Great White, which left him seconds from death. In the horrific encounter off the coast of South Africa, Andrew's right leg was bitten to the bone from hip to knee. His best friend died from massive injuries inflicted by the same shark.

The attack was 12 months ago. But in the next month, Andrew will attempt to overcome his fear by returning to surf in the same waters in which he was attacked.

The memories of what happened are still vivid. "There was a fabulous clear blue sky and I'd been out surfing for about half an hour with my friend, Bruce Corby," he remembers. "Suddenly, I felt this huge bang from behind. I realised straight away it was a shark. The first three seconds were the worst, sheer terror like I could never have imagined.

"I remember its power. It was the most helpless feeling because it had its jaws clamped round my leg and my surfboard, pulling me down into the water. I felt like my bones were being crushed. Its jaws alone were about 4 or 5ft long. I looked down into its face. I think its eyes were probably closed.

"I could feel it was biting me but I didn't feel much pain because my adrenalin was racing. It was just a crushing sensation and fear of dying because I was so far offshore, about 200 metres, where you're totally helpless, in the shark's domain.

"The guy who was closest to me said I let out one piercing scream. He said he thought the shark was biting me in half like a sandwich because its jaw was right over my leg, and the water all around me just flowed red. He turned round and paddled for dear life and I can understand why. You can't help someone escape from a shark that size."

Carter thought that he was being eaten alive. "It was a feeling of such unbelievable horror. I was holding on to my surfboard with all my might. Then for some reason the shark opened its mouth, probably to get a bigger bite. It went back into the water and leapt forward again. Because I was holding my board so tight it twisted round and jammed into the shark's mouth, and I started to swim a few strokes away.

"I kept looking back because I was terrified it would come at me from behind, and then I saw it let go of the board and disappear. I knew then that it was coming after me.

"I was too far from shore and losing an enormous amount of blood, so I knew I was minutes away from passing out. In desperation I clawed my way back to my surfboard and as I grabbed it I caught the luckiest wave of my life, which carried me in to shore."

He saw two girls sunbathing on the beach and started shouting for help. One girl tore off her clothes, tied them round his leg and packed them into the massive wound.

"She was holding my hand all the time. I was very cold and could feel the warmth from her body flowing into me. It was then that I thought I would die and started to see my life flowing past my eyes. My vision went, I could barely hear, but I realised I had no fear of death and was completely at ease with myself."

Andrew's friend, Bruce, was further out and had to come through Carter's blood to escape. None of the witnesses realised he was the shark's second victim until they saw him dying.

"A guy on the beach saw Bruce coming in on a wave," Carter says. "He shouted, 'Get out of the water, Andrew's been attacked.' Bruce said, 'I've been attacked too', but apparently he seemed very normal. Only then did the guy look down at him and see that he didn't have a leg. He grabbed Bruce and pulled him out of the water, and Bruce became totally hysterical. He went into shock and within about two minutes he'd stopped breathing.

"They gave him artificial respiration on the beach and revived him, but he was brain dead from that moment on and died 48 hours later."

Carter had a five-hour operation involving around 2,000 stitches. Every muscle and tendon had to be painstakingly sewed back together.

The champion surfer, who has won South African and European titles, remembers that only about two inches of flesh held his leg on to his torso. "The attack changed me a great deal," he says now. "It was a big thing to realise I have no fear of death when it comes to it. I used to get very uptight waiting for people when they were late or hanging about for a plane, whereas now I sit back and relax. I feel as though I'm living on borrowed time.

"I've spent the past seven months in Newquay, Cornwall, surfing, where, supposedly, there are no sharks. But usually wherever you surf in the world you know the sharks are out there.

"Now I have to go back to the place I was attacked to overcome my fear forever. I've been surfing for 22 years and only been attacked once. If anything, I think I'm kind of invincible now because I can get away from the buggers."

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