Rescuers awarded after terrifying Swan River shark attack

15 October 2021
In January this year, Cameron Wrathall was on his regular morning swim in the Swan River with his friend Richard when he was attacked by a bull shark around 100 metres from shore. Cameron hit and kicked the shark before it swam away, but it had ripped through his groin and buttock and broken his hip.

“From what I’ve read since, the summer’s when the bull shark mamas are about, having their pups and when they can be aggressive and things like this can potentially happen,” says Cameron. “The one that got me was somewhere between 2.5 to 3 metres, it was pretty big.”

Richard recalls the moment the shark attacked his friend. “It was quite terrifying to see the shark’s tail as it bit Cameron. I felt completely vulnerable for both of us given the unknown behaviour we were faced with.” After Cameron had kicked the shark away, Richard assisted Cameron to swim to shore, dragging him the final distance to the beach as Cameron had begun to lose consciousness.

“After both of us swimming to reach the beach and pulling Cam onto it, then seeing the full extent of his injuries and the thick blood trail in the water behind, the shock of the incident set in,” he said. Despite his own shock, Richard managed to call out for help and attract the attention of two kayakers, Kieron Hayter and Peter Towndrow, and a paddleboarder, Vance Bryan, who came to help. They tightly wrapped a t-shirt around Cameron’s leg wound to reduce the bleeding, then worked together to lift him onto the paddle board and carry him up a narrow path to the road.

After coming to and hearing Richard's shouts for help, Cameron drifted in and out of consciousness while his rescuers got to work. “I woke up again when they had me on the paddle board. They were going along the water’s edge with me on the paddle board looking for a way to get up the bank. Then I blacked out again.”

“It would have been impossible for me to have taken him up to the road on my own,” says Richard. “With all of us carrying Cam on the paddle board through some gnarly terrain – it was life-saving.” The group continued to monitor Cameron and put pressure on his injury while they waited for an ambulance. Cameron’s heart stopped while he was in the ambulance, but he was revived by paramedics and taken to hospital.

Cameron says he owes his life to the actions of these four men. “I had a bad injury; I was in and out of consciousness. I was down on the riverbank in a hard to access area. If I hadn’t been brought up to the roadside and been there when the ambulance turned up, I possibly wouldn’t be alive.”

Richard, Kieron, Peter and Vance were formally recognised for their lifesaving actions at the 2021 Royal Life Saving Bravery Awards. The men were each awarded a Gold Medallion at a ceremony held at the State Reception Centre in Kings Park on Friday 8th October. (Peter, who is based overseas, could not attend the ceremony, his sister Marion accepted the award on his behalf.)

Cameron says his rescuers often downplay the role they each had in saving his life. “Each of them has sort of said that they don’t think what they did was brave; that it was the sort of thing that anyone would do. But they were confronted with a challenging situation, and they did all the right things and they got me where I needed to be for the best possible outcome.”

“I’d just like to thank them, obviously, because their actions – even though they don’t consider them particularly heroic – their actions saved my life. I’m really appreciative of the opportunity that the Royal Life Saving Society presents in being able to recognise these guys like this. I’m really appreciative of that because it’s made a big difference to me.”

Swimming in the river was something that Richard and Cameron did together “five days a week, year-round for well over two years.” Although Richard hasn’t been back in the river since the incident, Cameron says that when he is able to swim again, he’d like to. “I would like to be able to swim in the river because it’s beautiful; it’s just a fantastic natural environment and something I really enjoyed and was good for me on many levels.”

“Whether or not it happens, I’m not sure. At this point I’m just not capable of it. Obviously, I’ll start in a pool, but I’d like to get in condition to be able to do it. I’m not sure how I’ll approach it, maybe I’ll swim in the winter.”