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Great white shark attack: Hurled 3m upward and bitten, surfer 'should be dead'

The waters off Gansbaai, South Africa, are the best place in the world to see Great White Sharks, due to the abundance of prey such as seals and penguins which live and breed on Dyer Island, which lies 8km from the mainland.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A surfer is in an Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Pinelands, South Africa, after a massive Great White shark attacked him, lunging up at him from below the surface and propelling him at least ten feet into the air. One witness says that 20-year-old Matthew Smithers "should be dead" after the vicious shark attack, reported Independent Online August 2.

Matthew Smithers was out on his surfboard Friday off Muizenberg Beach in Cape Town, reportedly in deep water some 200-300 meters (656-984 feet) from shore, when the Great White shark attacked from below, coming up from the depths. The shark hit the surfboard, propeling board and surfer at least three meters (10 feet) through the air.

Veteran surfer Julian Pringle noted, "There was only the board between him and the shark’s mouth. His board saved him," he added.

Smithers came down and the Great White seized him, biting him across the legs. Pringle described the surfer's legs as badly gashed.

Pringle also estimated that the Great White shark was at least 4 meters (13 feet) long. "The guy should be dead," he told Weekend Argus (per Independent Online), describing Smithers' survival as a "miracle."

He and fellow surfer Brendhan “Jock” Kannemeyer swam out to help Smithers who had somehow managed to get back to and climb onto his surfboard. Kannemeyer said that the shark was circling Smithers as he swam out to assist.

Although Kannemeyer was onshore when the shark attacked, he had been out much deeper a little earlier and had seen the shark. He had immediately moved toward shore and began warning surfers to get out of the water. But once he was alerted to the attack, he headed back in.

Still, it wasn't until he and Pringle got Smithers to the beach that he noticed how extensive the surfer's wounds really were. Officials there noted that someone had tied the surfboard leash around the bitten man's legs to act as a tourniquet and staunch blood flow.

“He had a big piece of flesh about the size of my hand hanging outside his left thigh," Kannemeyer said, describing the young man's wounds. "And then his right knee on the inside has been punctured. It looked awful."

An ambulance soon arrived. Shortly afterward, Smithers was airlifted from Muizenberg Beach to Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Pinelands for treatment.

Shark expert Greg Oelofse told Eye Witness News that Matthew Smithers was lucky to be alive. "With that size animal and the force is would apply to a bite," he said, "he got away with very minor injuries considering what could have happened.”

Oelofse, who is head of environmental policy and strategy for the City of Cape Town, confirmed that the Great White was massive, estimated to be at least 3.8 meters long. He also noted that the attack was quite rare, considering that Great White shark attacks were not common during the winter months.

"All I remember is the impact," Matthew Smithers told Independent Online the next day. He said he remembers afterward, being towed in to shore and thinking that he hoped he wasn't attacked a second time. He recalled trying to remain calm and feeling strangely relaxed, noticing that he could still feel his feet and toes.

The surfer later found out from doctors there was no damage to his leg bones, either.

And when asked if he would venture back out into the water after his ordeal, the young man replied, “Most definitely I’ll be back, as soon as I’m ready to go.”