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A Melbourne man has heroically saved the life of a three-year-old boy after a horrifying boating accident in crocodile and shark-infested waters in the Northern Territory.

Ande Bjornesjo, 34, of Hawthorn, is recovering at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital after almost losing his leg when a fishing trip with a friend and his three-year-old son took a horrible turn.

The group were returning to base after a day of fishing for Barramundi on the Elizabeth river, south of Darwin, when the drama unfolded.

The boat suddenly struck a mystery object and the trio were thrown overboard and into dangerous waters.

Ande's leg was caught in the propeller as the boat spun out of control, but somehow he managed to swim to the drowning boy.

Ande told Seven News reporter Karen O'Sullivan :"I just picked him up and trod water, kept his head above water to make sure he'd make it through."

Ande has undergone reconstructive surgery at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital. Photo: 7News

Ande held the toddler's head above water for about 20 minutes, until his father was able to swim back to the boat and drag the struggling pair on board.

Ande suffered severe lacerations to his leg, but his focus remained on the child's safety throughout the traumatic ordeal.

"My leg felt like sausages, but I had a child's life in my hands so that didn't really matter to me.

"I was running on adrenaline so I didn't feel any pain."

In a particularly chilling twist, Ande was oblivious to the other dangers around him.

"There is crocodiles and bull sharks in that river, but they were the last thing on my mind," he said.

Doctors are amazed by his heroism in rescuing the child.

Trauma surgeon Professor Russell Gruen said: "He must have had a tremendous adrenaline rush when the injury occurred to be able to tread water and save that child."

Ande was taken by road ambulance to Darwin Hospital where doctors fought to save his leg before being transferred to Melbourne's Alfred Hospital.

He suffered two broken bones, a crushed knee and has had a significant leg reconstruction.

Ande has undergone eight operations, and doctors say despite his horrific injuries he is likely to get full use of his leg back again.

He remains bed bound with several titanium poles pinning his leg together, and faces months of rehabilitation.

But the incident has given Ande a new outlook on life.

"I guess life's too short and you've got to make the most of it," he said.