When Alex Oliver, Liam Ryan and Jess Woolhouse saw a fellow surfer being attacked by a fearsome 5m great white at Bunker Bay their only thought was to paddle to his rescue.
The trio’s heroism in getting Phil Mummert to shore when so many others would have frozen has led them to be named among 49 people who will receive Australian bravery awards on Wednesday.
All three were in the water when the shark struck on July 31, 2020, taking a bite of Mr Mummert’s leg as it catapulted him off his board.
As Mr Mummert fought for his life, the surfers — whom he described in the days after the attack as “dead set heroes” — put their own lives at risk by paddling straight at the huge shark.
Leading the way, Mr Oliver charged towards the predator on his longboard.
Mr Mummert was bleeding but somehow the trio got him on to the longboard right next to the shark. “To paddle to someone you don’t even know with a shark there in the water, that’s insane,” Mr Mummert said at the time.
“I didn’t believe it. I thought, ‘What are you doing? Save yourself’. Thanks from the bottom of my heart — without them, I’d be dead.”
Mr Oliver dragged him on his board 100m to shore. The three men stayed with Mr Mummert until he was then taken to hospital where he received treatment for deep wounds to his leg and arm.
Just hours after the ferocious attack Mr Woolhouse and Father Ryan, a Catholic priest, described the terrifying incident in detail.
“I just saw this thing come out of the water about probably 10-15m in front of me,” Mr Woolhouse said. “I heard Limo start yelling and then saw the severity of what was happening. I made an effort to paddle over.
“We all sort of made an effort to get him on to the board and start heading in just sort of yelling and trying to splash the water. We were in a situation … where it was life or death.”
Father Ryan said that he saw the shark come out of the water and strike Mr Mummert.
“I saw him get hit, he was sitting on his board and then he’s come off,” Father Ryan said. “I couldn’t see any blood in the water, I just saw a s…load of that shark.
“There was a real presence of the spirit of humanity there, the fact that we all came together.”
Mr Oliver, Father Ryan and Mr Woolhouse have already been awarded a gold medallion for exceptional bravery by Surf Life Saving WA for their heroics that day. And their gallantry will now be further recognised with Australian Bravery Decorations.
Among the others being recognised by Governor-General David Hurley on Wednesday is Lancelin’s David Farcich, who helped rescue someone from a burning car in 2019. Applecross man Tyler White will also receive a bravery medal for rescuing a man from the Canning River in 2020 while Yangebup’s Shane Wilkins and Steven Harwood will receive commendations for brave conduct for helping rescue an elderly woman from a house fire in 2018.
Mr Hurley said all 49 recipients had displayed amazing acts of courage. “No one really knows how, when presented with a dangerous situation, they will act. The men and women that we are celebrating today acted bravely,” he said.