Wil Schroeter says he's lucky he didn't lose his foot after a shark attack off Windang beach

Sudden attack: Albion Park surfer Wil Schroeter is recovering after he was bitten to the bone on his left foot by a shark while surfing at Windang beach. Picture: Rob Peet
Sudden attack: Albion Park surfer Wil Schroeter is recovering after he was bitten to the bone on his left foot by a shark while surfing at Windang beach. Picture: Rob Peet

Two nights before Wil Schroeter was attacked by a shark off a beach south of Wollongong, his wife had a vivid dream of him paddling back to shore, bloodied and terrified, after a shark bite.

Wife Michele's dreams had come true before, he'd thought, as he prepared to paddle out with a mate on the morning of Friday January 17.

The dream played on his mind - as did the fact the conditions were near perfect for sharks keen for a feed. It was early morning, the water was murky, and a huge downpour the previous night had seen small fish and other marine life flushed out to sea from the lake.

"All those things were on my mind," Mr Schroeter, a keen fisherman and surfer said. "I know what conditions sharks like so I was hesitant to put the board in.

"But I've read a lot about the history of shark attacks in the region, and I thought 'what are the chances'."

He caught his first wave, then paddled back out and sat on his board awhile - legs dangling into the water. He didn't see the shark, didn't feel any movement beneath him before the attack.

"Then all of a sudden I just felt the jaws of the shark close over my foot and clamp down - like a rabbit or bear trap," he said.

"It came from the front and had my toes and the arch of my foot in its mouth, which it clamped shut. I knew it was a shark, I felt its teeth and gums.

"Then it just gave my foot a shake, and released it. It all happened in a split second. And I instantly thought about my wife's dream."

Mr Schroeter, 59 - an occupational first aid and security officer at the steelworks - knew he had to get back to shore, and fast. He yelled out to his friend, yet could not be heard over the crash of the waves.

So he laid back down on his board and paddled to shore.

"I didn't want to look at my foot, but I could feel something was wrong - I was wondering if my toes were hanging off by the skin," he said.

"But I just concentrated on paddling back, and kept checking on my level of consciousness."

Finally he reached knee-deep water and started yelling again to his mate, 'Shark, shark'.

"I looked down and saw my mangled foot, the skin was flapping in the water and every time the waves receded, pools of blood spread out," he said.

"I wasn't in much pain, and I knew I had to stop the bleeding."

He ripped his leg rope off his board and put it around his foot - to keep the skin together. By that time his mate was by his side, using his leg rope to also act as a tourniquet.

Emergency response: Paramedics were quickly on scene, treating Mr Schroeter and transporting him to Wollongong Hospital where he underwent two surgeries. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Emergency response: Paramedics were quickly on scene, treating Mr Schroeter and transporting him to Wollongong Hospital where he underwent two surgeries. Picture: Sylvia Liber

A sailboarder who'd just come in from the water ran for help, and Windang Surf Club members spilled onto the beach to offer assistance. They used Mr Schroeter's board to transport him back up to the club, and await emergency services.

"It was when the paramedics got there, when they started treating me, that I started going into shock and started feeling sick," he remembered. "They cut my wetsuit off, gave me some medication."

They transported him to Wollongong Hospital where he remembers the doors opening to reveal a team of 10 to 15 medical staff.

He underwent his first surgery that day, to clamp off the artery which had been severed, and clean up the wound to ward off infection.

Two days later he was back on the operating table, with a foot and ankle specialist surgeon rejoining the tendons and nerves which had also been partially severed in the attack.

"The shark didn't take any piece of me - I'm glad it let go when it did otherwise it would have been a tug of war," Mr Schroeter said.

"I know I'm lucky I didn't lose my foot, and I could have ended up with more serious damage, but it's mending well."

Wife Michele and youngest daughter Alana are helping nurse him back to health. Picture: Robert Peet

Wife Michele and youngest daughter Alana are helping nurse him back to health. Picture: Robert Peet

Now back at his Albion Park home, it's rest and rehab for the father-of-two for six to eight weeks.

And then? Well he's planning on returning to the water, but may do things a little differently.

"I grew up in Lake South - a 10 minute walk to the beach and started surfing when I was 17," he said.

"So I'll be back out there - I'll just play it smarter next time, I knew the conditions weren't right."

This story 'I felt the jaws of the shark close over my foot' says surfer first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.