It was a holiday that Judy Shelley and Ric Wright will never forget. Not only did the of Tura Beach couple decide to formally tie the knot after 21 years together, but Ric narrowly escaped losing his fingers to a rogue shark at Horizontal Falls, Kimberley.
Ric and Judy were part of a group of 12 friends and regular swimmers at Merimbula’s Bar Beach who decided to holiday together and charter a boat to explore the spectacular coastline of the Kimberleys from Darwin to Broome.
Three days into the trip and enjoying themselves enormously, Ric and Judy decided to plan their surprise wedding aboard the Lady M. With the help of the captain and his four crew they organised the wedding ceremony, obtained bow ties for the men, leis for the women, made a paper posy for Judy and announced their plans the evening before the big day, amid great excitement.
On Monday, May 19 the captain took the boat into the King George Falls near Cape Londonderry. Everyone was on deck for the ceremony and then the captain drove the ship under the falls to “bless the union” with a drenching shower.
It was on the sixth day of Ric and Judy’s honeymoon that events took a dramatic turn. Ric said: “We were in a cage in waist deep water looking at the fish through a glass viewing section at Horizontal Falls, WA. There were these sharks, we were told they were lemon sharks, about 3.5 metres long, supposedly not a man-eating shark and they were coming up with their heads slightly out of the water. We were enjoying patting them and they seemed to be enjoying it too. Suddenly a rogue shark came from left past the sharks we were patting and partly jumped out of the water to grab my right hand. It grabbed it and tore it and went back to the water. It was a bit of a shock,” Ric said.
As he pulled his hand back there was a lot of blood and it was obvious that he has sustained severe injuries. Fortunately for Ric, Michele and Peter Bootes, first aid trainers from Pambula Surf Life Saving Club were part of the group. Ric said that Michele immediately took charge of providing first aid to stop the bleeding and deal with the shock.
A seaplane was brought in to evacuate Ric to Derby Hospital where the next day a surgeon operated on Ric’s hand putting somewhere between 30 and 50 stitches in his hand. Ric says he hasn’t counted them all yet.
“I was very, very lucky although there were severe lacerations there was no nerve or tendon damage,” Ric said.
While he was at Derby Hospital Ric had the chance to catch up with another Tura Beach local, Eileen Quin, who is now working as the Kimberley district pharmacist and is the pharmacist at the Derby Hospital. Eileen was the pharmacist at Tura Beach for several years.
After meeting up with their friends once again in Broome Ric and Judy are home.
Ric said: “The boat crew and our friends were wonderful throughout as was the service at Derby and Broome hospitals. The stitches in the fingers are looking good but there’s still quite a bit of healing to do. This was a wedding not to be forgotten and we’ve still got to do the Register Office.”