North Star Cleared in Croc Attack, Rescuers Awarded

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Alan Sartori with West Australian Governor Malcolm McCusker.
Picture: Daniel Wilkins
News Limited

 Source: News Limited

A MYSTERY rescuer known only as “Big Al” has broken his silence to reveal how he wrestled a 3m crocodile that had latched on to a friend’s leg.

Far from considering himself a hero, he said: “I just did what I thought was right.”

Tara Hawkes, 23, was swimming in a waterhole 200km north of Broome in April when the crocodile bit her thigh and pulled her underwater.

Alan Sartori “Big Al” said he acted on instinct when her heard her screams, launching himself into the pool and on to the attacker’s back.

“I saw it on top of her. I jumped into the water and on to its back and pushed it into the shallows. I stuck my thumbs into its eyes and felt it start to slacken off,” Mr Sartori, 35, said yesterday as he was honoured at the Royal Life Saving Society’s Western Power Bravery Awards.

“Tara was bleeding pretty heavily. I picked it up and chucked it back into the water and it came back at me. It was pretty heavy. I wouldn’t ever want to do it again. I’m just glad I took the chance and had a crack (at saving her).”

It was an emotional reunion at the awards ceremony as Ms Hawkes said she wouldn’t be alive without the heroics of Mr Sartori and Mike Fletcher, who helped wrestle the crocodile.

After months of rehabilitation, scars are the only physical reminder of the attack, but she still suffers anxiety and panic attacks, and is seeing a counsellor.

Ms Hawkes and Mr Sartori had been working as crew members on the Kimberley vessel True North. Mr Fletcher was a passenger, and all agreed the ordeal had made them life-long friends.

“It took me under and all I could see was black and my life literally flashed before my eyes. It was just so big and so strong and I was helpless,” Ms Hawkes said. “It was about to do a death roll, I think. I was gone if they didn’t come for me. I owe them my life.

“The three of us were punching this thing in the face and screaming and shoving our fingers in its eyes and trying to hit it.

“I basically had to piece my leg back together. It was pretty horrible. I look at my scars every day and think about it. I will carry these guys in my heart wherever they go.”

Mr Fletcher said: “Al was so intense, his face was so steely.

“Al was holding this thing by the head out of the water with its jaws wide open. It was the craziest thing I have ever seen”.

A subsequent Worksafe investigation determined the ship’s owners, North Star Cruises, were not at fault in the incident, and had taken adequate steps to protect staff from crocodile attacks.

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