SYDNEY - A man who dived into the sea to rescue a woman from a shark attack said Monday "reality hit" when he saw the water turn red, as he was honoured for his bravery.
Rowan Cutbush was on a boat at Jimmys Beach near Port Stephens, about 150km north of Sydney, in March 2011 when a friend he was towing fell off her wakeboard - similar to a waterski - into the water.
As she began swimming back to her board she was attacked by a shark, leaving her with deep cuts to her arm and neck. Cutbush and another friend sped their vessel back to pick up the woman, and when they got close enough he dived in and swam about 20m to reach her in "the bloodied water", his bravery citation read.
"I knew it was reality as soon as that water started to turn red," Cutbush told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
He said he did not think about his actions until he had reached his friend and "turned around to see how far I had to swim back to the boat".
"That was a little bit scary," he said.
"I didn't realise that the shark was still floating around at the time, I just wanted to get her back on that boat and out of the water." It was not established what type of shark was responsible, but great whites are known to breed in the area.
Cutbush Monday received an Australian Bravery Medal for his efforts, which included dragging his injured friend out the water and helping provide first aid for her severely lacerated arm.
"Mr Cutbush then drove the vessel at high speed while the woman continued to receive treatment until they were met by ambulance officers at the jetty," the citation read.
Sharks are common in Australian waters but deadly attacks are rare, with only one of the average 15 incidents a year typically proving fatal.
Two shark attack deaths occurred in Australia in November 2013, with a teenager killed at Campbells Beach, about 450km north of Sydney, after being bitten on the legs while body boarding.
The previous week a 35-year-old surfer died in Western Australia when the animal attacked him after bouncing off the surfboard of another man.
In February this year a 28-year-old man disappeared in South Australia.
Witnesses reported seeing him being attacked by a shark.