29 January, 2021
Croc attack survivor describes terrifying ordeal
A man who went for a lunchtime swim at Lake Placid and nearly ended up on the menu, has described his terrifying brush with death in an exclusive interview with Cairns Local News.
Speaking from his home in Kamerunga today, Mark Ridge, a fit and healthy 56 year old whose age was misreported elsewhere as 44, said he had a “sore head and a sore shoulder” but was otherwise expecting to make a full recovery after spending yesterday afternoon in Cairns Hospital.
“I just feel bummed out that I got bitten,” he said
“I love my swimming there and it will put me off - for this week anyway.”
A crocodile estimated to be more than 2.5 metres long clamped its jaws down on his head while he was swimming, but he managed to reach his hands up and prise them open.
“I’d been swimming for about ten minutes and suddenly, bang!” said Mr Ridge.
“It happened fast and I didn’t see anything, but I felt the pressure on my head. It was an intense force. I knew what it was straight away.
“At first it was just sheer surprise. I put my hands out and I could feel his teeth.
“I just went into instinct mode. Adrenaline is amazing stuff when you get a scare. When you’re fighting for your life, when something’s got you around the head and underwater, you do what you have to do.
“Luckily he was a juvenile and I’m the same size as him, so apart from him having a mouth full of teeth, he’s up against someone who is ready to fight for their life and I wasn’t going to go down easy. So he wasn’t going to get an easy feed.”
After Mr Ridge prised the jaws off his head, the teeth snapped shut on his forefinger, which was cut deeply but not broken.
Mr Ridge then swam 400 metres back to shore, in what must have felt like the longest swim of his life.
The GPS map of the whole experience was recorded by his sports watch and uploaded to his Strava account under the somewhat appropriate title of "Lunch Swim."
Mr Ridge narrowly avoided being the lunch in question by swimming as fast as he could before the crocodile could come back for another bite.
“You can see the point where I turned around - that’s where the croc attacked me. I was in a fair bit of pain so I just stuck close to the bank just in case I didn’t think I could make the swim, but I had no problems,” he said.
Mr Ridge, a Senior First Aid trained dive instructor, asked some bystanders to call an ambulance while he had a shower to wash some of the blood away.
“I had virtually nothing with me. I was in my swimmers, but I had a little towel so I wrapped that around my finger to stop the bleeding,” he said.
Paramedics said Mr Ridge was extremely lucky to have survived the attack after suffering puncture wounds in his head, neck and shoulders, just centimetres away from vital arteries. The blood loss was not serious and he was fully conscious when they picked him up.
After taping up the wounds with butterfly stitches, the main concern for doctors was giving him painkillers and antibiotics to prevent infection before he returned home around 5pm, much to the relief of his wife Mina, daughter Mili, 18, and son Matt, 15.
“They pulled a few crocodile teeth fragments out of my head. They gave me those. They’re only little bits but they’re cool,” he said.
The avid mountain bike rider, diver and trail runner was also admitted to hospital for an irukandji jellyfish sting 12 years ago and broke his collarbone riding his bike two years ago.
He said he had been cycling to the waterway and swimming in it regularly for nearly 25 years, averaging 10-12 kilometres of swimming per week, and had never had a problem before.
He said he hoped to return to swimming there and thought it unlikely that lightning would strike twice in the same place.
“It's a great place to swim, safer than the beach where there are jellyfish. And swimming pools just aren’t the same,” he said.
“I’ve seen five crocs there over the years but they are always small juveniles that come up that far, and they’ve never been aggressive to me. The last one I saw got shot, so I wasn’t worried about it.
“I check the croc wise website regularly and there were no sightings of a crocodile recently.
“I’m just glad it was me. It could’ve been a young child grabbed from a raft or paddle board, it could’ve been horrific. That would’ve been terrible for tourism.
“They need to do more about removing the crocodiles from that area.
“I’m a green person, I like the environment, but crocs in a place like that are not a good idea.”
Since the attack, social media has lit up with hundreds of locals commenting on Mr Ridge’s choice to swim at the lake.
“People comment all the time when they see me swimming there,” he said.
“It doesn’t worry me. If they want to spend their life on the couch on their phones let them do it.”
Given that the main pressure on our healthcare system nowadays comes from lifestyle diseases like obesity and heart conditions, he may have a point.
When last contacted on Friday afternoon he said he was going for a run, and was looking forward to his wounds healing so he could resume swimming and get back to work as a dive instructor as soon as possible.
“Thanks to the ambos and medical staff for looking after me and hopefully I don’t have to go and visit them again any time soon,” he said.