‘First thing I see is this croc’s head come at me’
A CROCODILE that attacked an off-duty ranger who was fishing from rocks at a remote Cape York beach, stalked the man on dry land before grabbing him from behind.
Craig Dickmann is recovering in Cairns Hospital after he suffered injuries to his right hand and arm, and left thigh following a narrow escape from a 2.8m long saltwater crocodile's jaws at Captain Billy Landing, about 900km north of Cairns, on Sunday.
Mr Dickmann, 54, told how he had initially scoped his Jardine River National Park fishing spot - a rock shelf - for any sign of crocs, before settling in for a relaxed afternoon of angling.
"I knew there were crocs (in the area), so I stayed in from both edges by at least a couple of metres, and cast my line," he said.
The Department of Environment and Science officer said about five minutes later, he noticed storms brewing to the west, so he decided to pack up his gear and leave.
"I'm reeling in, and as I've turned to go, I've turned to the left, and the first thing I see is this croc's head, just come at me," he said.
"I didn't hear it. I didn't know it was there, and I'd only been there for five minutes.
"The thing had come up the side of the rock, from behind me out of my vision, and had been stalking me from behind, on dry land.
"So I turned, it's jumped and snapped, and that noise will haunt me forever: the snap of its jaws - it was quicker than your mind can register."
A life and death battle ensued, with the croc's powerful jaws locking onto Mr Dickmann's left thigh, pushing him to the ground and attempting to drag him into the water.
Having read about crocs before, he said he managed to plunge his thumb into one of the reptile's eye sockets, trying to get it to release its grip on him.
"These (crocs) are bulletproof: there's no weakness," he said.
"The only soft spot I found was its eye socket, so I was pushing down on its eye socket.
"At that time, it decided to do its death roll."
While the croc had started to spin its body, trying to dismember its prey, it suddenly released Mr Dickmann's body, having only gripped soft tissue rather than bone, its teeth getting entangled in his shorts.
It then grabbed him on the wrist, with the ranger trying again to eye-gouge the animal.
"I pushed harder on its eyeball, and it's done another death roll," he said.
"As it's done its death roll, it's ripped all the flesh off the top of my hand, there.
"I remember looking at (my hand) later on and seeing how it looked like when you peel back the flesh, when they do those diagrams in anatomy textbooks."
A third attempt at gouging the crocodile's eyeball - this time pushing down as far as the croc's skull - proved more successful, with the predator finally releasing him, allowing him to grab and pin the croc's jaws and fling the whole animal away.
It was only then that he was able to get some distance between him and the croc, and escaped.
With the ranger station an hour's drive away from Captain Billy Landing, Mr Dickmann staggered back to his vehicle, forcing himself into the driver's seat.
He grabbed a T-shirt and tied it around his "degloved" hand, to stem any blood loss from the mauled limb.
Having driven the relatively straight road several times, he forced himself to keep his eyes peeled for landmarks indicating how long he had until he arrived back at the base.
Once he arrived, he said it was a struggle to haul himself up the stairs of the ranger's residence.
"I managed to get into the house, dial Triple 0, and then I radioed someone else who was on the base - a colleague, who came and helped," he said.
With the attack occurring about 4pm, it was 6pm by the time Mr Dickmann's colleague arrived to administer first aid, patching him up with a medical kit.
With Bamaga a three-hour drive away, the injured ranger was then driven to nearby cattle property, Bramwell Station, 80km away.
The station has its own airstrip, and its owners were contacted to removed cattle from it, to allow a Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft to land.
Mr Dickmann was picked up from the airstrip about 8.30pm, and then flown to Cairns Hospital, arriving there at 1am.
Mr Dickmann has had multiple surgeries since Monday, with doctors noting the croc's teeth narrowly missed his femoral artery in his thigh, when it tore at his flesh.
"I've got all five fingers, and they all move, and there's feeling in more of them," he said.
"It could have been a lot, lot worse.
"People keep telling me to buy a lottery ticket, but I think I've used those points up."
He has been given a course of antibiotics to ensure he does not pick up any bacterial infection from the crocodile's bites - a hidden danger for any survivor of a croc attack.
He is likely to be in the hospital at least for another few days.
The department conducted helicopter surveys of the area earlier this week, and spotted the croc in the ocean near the attack site on Tuesday night.
It was humanely euthanised (shot), and its body recovered and buried in consultation with traditional owners.
Mr Dickmann said he was in the wrong spot at the wrong time, but was concerned the croc could have stalked another person at the popular camping and day use area.
"The croc was doing was crocs do, and I was doing what a person does," he said.
"My fear was someone else getting attack.
"This thing stalked me from behind. I was very fortunate to get away from it."
He said he did take steps to be as croc-wise as possible in croc territory, checking for any croc tracks, standing back from the edge of the water, and ensuring there was dry land behind him.
"I'll go back to the Cape, but I don't know about fishing anymore," he said.