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Woman tells of croc rescue at awards
Tara Hawkes speaks to the media today. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

A woman who was attacked by a crocodile in a remote Kimberley bay says she saw her life flash before her eyes when the two metre long animal grabbed her leg and pulled her underwater.

Speaking out for the first time about the ordeal, 23-year-old Tara Hawkes said she would not be alive today if it was not for the two men that came to her rescue.

Ms Hawkes was reunited with her two heroes, Alan Sartori and Mike Fletcher, at the Western Power Bravery Awards this morning.

Mr Sartori received the Merit Bravery award while Mr Fletcher was honoured with the Gold Medallion Bravery award.

A crew member onboard adventure cruise ship True North, Ms Hawkes was swimming at a freshwater pool at Talbot Bay about 200km north of Broome when she was attacked in waist-deep water on April 1.

The crocodile bit her upper leg and dragged her under.

Ms Hawkes described the terrifying scene in detail today, thanking Mr Sartori and Mr Fletcher for saving her life.

“The croc took me under and started dragging me back to the cave it came from,” she said.

“I screamed for help and Alan responded straight away, without even looking twice.

“It was a battle and I kept screaming and pleading for more help. I knew it was on my leg, I knew this beast was too strong — I was helpless and my life was gone, I saw it flash before my eyes.

“Then Mike came and the three of us tried to punch it in the face, stick fingers in its jaw, its eyes.

“If it wasn’t for these two brave men I wouldn’t be here today.”

Mr Sartori jumped onto the back of the crocodile while Mr Fletcher tried to keep Ms Hawke’s head above the water. The two men then fought to pry open the animal’s jaws and free Ms Hawkes’ leg.
Ms Hawke was then taken back to the cruise ship for treatment before being airlifted by helicopter to Derby Hospital.

Mr Sartori who was also a crew member on board the True North vessel said he was driven by instinct.

“I’ve been working around crocodiles for quite a while — they are not as scary to me as they are to regular Perth people but I’ve never done anything like that,” he said.

“I just did what I thought was right.

“But I don’t really want to do it ever again.”

Bravery award winners Alan Sartori, Tara Hawkes and Mike Fletcher with their awards. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

The trio, who were reunited today for the first time since the attack, were all smiles and hugs but Ms Hawkes said the trauma of the incident still affected her deeply.

“The rehabilitation is going really well and I’m taking baby steps right now,” she said.

“I have flashbacks all the time — I still get anxiety, panic attacks, still processing it all slowly.”

Asked whether she had been able to go swimming since the incident Ms Hawkes said she was slowly getting there.

“I find pools okay but the ocean I find I am still looking out for moving rocks and things that may jump out.

“As part of my rehabilitation I went to a fresh water swimming hole and it took me about an hour to get in.

“But as they say, what ever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I think this definitely has.”

Mr Sartori and Mr Fletcher were among 21 people who were acknowledged at the Western Power Bravery Awards today.

Surf lifesaver Dale Gration was honoured for his quick thinking when shark attacked his friend Martin Kane while they were out paddling off Mullaloo Beach in June.

The shark bit into Mr Kane’s surf ski and tipped him into the water.

Mr Gration quickly paddled over and wedged his surf ski between the shark and Mr Kane before pulling him to safety.

Jeff “Camel” Goulden was also recognised for a shark attack rescue.

Mr Goulden was surfing at Red Bluff near Carnarvon in August when he saw a fellow surfer in trouble.
The man had been attacked by a shark.

Mr Goulden paddled over, pulled the man onto his surf board and got him safely to shore.