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Doctor tells of frantic effort to save NQ shark attack victim


A doctor who helped treat shark attack victim, Richard Bettua, off the north Queensland coast yesterday says it was a “scary situation” and at one point Bettua stopped breathing.

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Bettua, 59, was spearfishing with a friend off Britomart Reef — just after midday on Sunday — when he was bitten by a shark on the upper thigh.

Dr Ben Reeves, a paediatric cardiologist in Cairns Hospital, said he and two friends had been fishing off Britomart Reef when another boat started coming towards them at speed.

“The chap behind the wheel, waving us down to try and give some assistance… he told us that his friend had been bitten by a shark,” he said.

“We got into the boat, saw that Rick was in a really bad way with a big bite mark on his leg.”

Reeves said Bettua’s friend had already given basic first aid and applied a tourniquet but Bettua had already lost a lot of blood.

“He was in a lot of pain and looked grey at that point, had difficulty breathing,” he said.

Reeves said they managed to lift him up onto their boat and began heading back to shore.

“We all thought that the best chance for this guy was just to get back to shore as quickly as possible, and we had the faster boat by far,” he said.

“During the trip, Rick was initially quite stable and talking to us although in a lot of pain and a bit confused but within 5 or 6 miles of the boat ramp he started drifting in and out of consciousness.

“By the time we got him near to the ramp he stopped breathing.”

Emergency services met the boat at Dungeness boat ramp near Lucinda where Reeves said Bettua thankfully started responding to treatment.

“At that point he was looking in a really bad way, we worked on him on the jetty, with the paramedics and there was a doctor there waiting for us as well and managed to get him back,” he said.

Throughout the ordeal Reeves said he was thankful for the communication with services back on land, as it was very scary trying to treat Bettua so far out at sea.

“We were 30 miles from land, with no resuscitation equipment, no ability to give him any blood or fluids,” he said.

“All of us realised very quickly that there’s nothing much we could do except to try and get him back as fast as possible.

“It was pretty intense for all of us… to see someone that bad and feel really quite helpless that we couldn’t do much.

“Rick’s friend saved his life, getting him back to the boat and applying a tourniquet, without that it wouldn’t have been a good outcome.”

Bettua was taken to Townsville University Hospital for emergency surgery.

He remains in a critical condition.

– ABC / Holly Richardson

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