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Shark Victim Hails her ‘Lifesaver’

  • 4 min read


Tour guide Elyse Frankcom puts it simply: “He’s my lifesaver and I wouldn’t be here without him”.GABRIELLE KNOWLES, The West Australian, November 4, 2010, 3:00 am.

The 19-year-old who was mauled by a shark believes Trevor Burns, 48, saved her life during the attack near Garden Island on Saturday.

Mr Burns – a father of two – was less than metre from Ms Frankcom, a dolphin tour guide, when a 3m shark darted past him and bit into her thigh.

“I thought it was a dolphin (but) it opened its mouth and did a double bite on her and I immediately realised, dolphins aren’t like that,” Mr Burns said.

“I thought I just had to get it off her, so that’s when I grabbed it by the tail and held on for a quick ride.”

As he pulled its tail she tried to punch it in the head.

“My first instinct . . . was honestly to punch it and I pushed it away from me,” she said.

The combined assault forced the shark – which Ms Frankcom’s father Danny believes was a tiger shark – to loosen its grip.

The thrashing shark broke free from Mr Burns and he lost sight of it in the churned-up water.

“It was just red, pink and white foam everywhere, I stopped seeing Elyse, she wasn’t there,” he said.

“By the time the shark had disappeared, the water cleared and I could then see Elyse.

“She was going down and she was well towards the bottom.”

The charter group had been in 7m of water about 300m off the north-eastern end of Garden Island about 12.30pm as Ms Frankcom, a guide with Rockingham Wild Encounters, led them on a swim-with-dolphins tour.

The swimmers were in wetsuits but had no flippers. Ms Frankcom was wearing a weight belt and using an aqua scooter to frolic and attract dolphins. She dropped the scooter when the shark attacked.

Mr Burns saw that Ms Frankcom was dazed and dived down to drag her to the surface while others raced for the boat, which had first aid equipment on board.

“I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d left her there . . . that’s just not me,” he said.

Mr Burns conceded he had probably saved Ms Frankcom’s life but shunned any “hero” tag. “I don’t consider myself a hero,” he said. “I only did what my mum and dad taught me, to look after the people around me.”

But Ms Frankcom’s father said thanking him did not seem adequate for what he had done to save his youngest child.

Ms Frankcom said she had no warning of the attack, which happened as she surfaced.

“I felt the pressure on my legs and I just kind of jolted and it happened again,” she said.

“It honestly felt like I’d got my hand or my foot caught in the propeller of the scooter.

“Then I noticed the grey figure and realised it was a shark . . . as soon as I realised it was a shark, I just thought (turn on the) shark shield.”

She said she had left the shark shield – which emits electrical pulses that repel sharks by giving them muscular spasms – off during her previous swim because the water was clear and she did not “expect anything to happen”.

She believed turning it on after the attack saved her and Mr Burns from further injuries. She had not realised until later that he had pulled the shark’s tail.

“It was a bit of a spin out but it does explain why the shark . . . didn’t stay at me,” she said. Ms Frankcom did not feel any pain until colleagues and tour guests worked to stem her bleeding thigh wounds on the boat. She feared then she could still die.

“Everyone was saying I’d lost a lot of blood,” she said. “Of course, being attacked by a shark it’s what just runs through your mind . . . a lot of people don’t survive, I’m just lucky to be the person who did.”

She required about 200 stitches to close the wounds, which include a big semi-circle bite on her right thigh and a number of gashes on her left leg.

Doctors have reassured her she should make a full recovery. “It’s the best feeling knowing I can get back up and I’m not going to lose my legs,” she said.

Ms Frankcom has been scuba diving with her father since she was 12 and said the attack would not keep her from the water.

“I plan to spend a lot of time in the ocean, I knew I was going to come across a shark at one stage, I’m just glad I’ve got it out of the way,” she said. “I honestly think I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the ocean’s a big place.”

Ms Frankcom believes strongly the shark that attacked her should not be hunted and killed.

“We are going into their territory . . . sharks are killers, you can’t kill something for doing what it’s made naturally to do,” she said.

Her upbeat attitude shone through as she discussed wearing a necklace made from the shark tooth fragment surgeons had pulled from her right knee.

“It didn’t get away scot-free,” she said. “The shark got a bit of my flesh and I got a bit of his tooth.”

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