PERTH, Australia >> An Australian received a bravery award on Monday for grabbing a 12-foot great white shark by the tail as it mauled a snorkeler.
Trevor Burns, 50, earned the Star of Courage for acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril by grappling with the shark and then rescuing its victim, Elyse Frankcom, off the southwest coast town of Rockingham in 2010. The only higher Australian civilian award for bravery is the Cross of Valor.
Frankcom was a 19-year-old guide showing dolphins to a group of a dozen tourist snorkelers including Burns when the shark clamped her thighs in its jaws.
Burns said Frankcom was only an arm’s length away, but he quickly lost sight of her in a cloud of blood.
“I just thought: ‘Get it off her,'” the IT consultant said Monday.
“I knew she was going to be in trouble and she needed help,” he added.
Burns said he clung to the tail for several seconds despite its violent thrashing before the shark released Frankcom and swam away.
Frankcom was then sinking until Burns swam to her and raised her to the dive boat. Other tourists had swum for safety.
Frankcom received surgery and more than 200 stitches to her leg wounds but has now largely recovered from her injuries. She and Burns remain in contact.
Burns, who lives in the east coast city of Brisbane and had been on a family vacation with his wife and children when the shark attacked, said he was not sure if he would repeat such a heroic act.
“I’d like to think I would. I’m reasonably confident I would,” he said. “But it’s purely on the day; it’s a decision you’ve got to make and you either go for it or you don’t.”
A total of 151 people earned Australian bravery awards in the latest annual announcement on Monday. Burns won the only Star of Courage in the four-tier system and no one earned the higher accolade.