Escape from inside jaws of a Great White

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An Australian diver fought himself free from the jaws of a 10ft great white shark that swallowed his head and shoulders and then bit him around the torso.

Eric Nerhus, an abalone diver, told rescuers that he pushed his abalone chisel into the shark's head and poked it in the eye. He then fought it off when it returned for a second attack, clamping its jaws around his body.

Mr Nerhus, 41, was said to be in a serious but stable condition in Wollongong Hospital, south of Sydney, last night after the attack off southern New South Wales yesterday.

He was submerged with his son and other divers when the shark attacked. With the first bite, the shark crushed Mr Nerhus's reinforced face mask, leaving him with a broken nose. The brunt of the second bite was taken by his lead weight vest, but his wetsuit was shredded. He suffered shock and blood loss and was left with lacerations to his body, left arm and head.

His 25-year-old son managed to pull him into their boat. Mr Nerhus was conscious and able to tell the other divers and rescuers what he believed happened.

"He stated that he was head first into the shark," said a spokeswoman for the Snowy Hydro Southcare rescue service, which airlifted him to hospital. Dennis Luobikis, a fellow diver, said: "He was actually bitten by the head down. The shark swallowed his head."

Mr Nerhus told the divers that visibility was very limited and he did not see the shark approaching. "But he felt the bite, and then started getting shaken, and that's when he knew he was in the mouth of the shark," said one diver, Michael Mashado. Mr Luobikis said his friend pushed his abalone chisel, used to harvest the mollusc, into the shark's head and the creature released him. "Eric is a tough boy," he said. "He's super fit. But I would say that would test anyone's resolve, being a fish lunch."

Mr Nerhus's son, Mark, said they were about 30ft down in murky water. " He came up to the surface. He was going 'help, help, there's a shark'," he said. "I went over and there was a big pool of red blood and I pulled him out of the water."

A shark expert said that the shark probably mistook Mr Nerhus for a seal. Grant Willis, a shark specialist at Sydney aquarium, told the Australian television channel Nine Network: "He's had a run-in with one of the ocean's most formidable predators and he's lived to tell the story, so he's a very, very lucky man."

He said that the shark would have quickly realised that Mr Nehrus didn't taste anything like a seal, but "sort of a bit bony ­ so it possibly spat [him] back out", he said.

"There's also the story that I have heard that he fought this thing off, so there's a lot to be said for punching them [sharks] in the nose or poking them in the eye. It certainly would work."

Mr Willis said that attacks were extremely rare. "You've got more chance of dying in your car on your way to the beach than you ever are of being eaten by a shark in the water," he said.

On average, there are 15 shark attacks off the Australian coast each year, one of which is fatal.