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Dolphins save surfer from 20-foot shark

A great white shark. (Imago/Zuma Press/TNS)
October 05, 2022

A wild scene played out off an Australian beach last week as a small aircraft crashed while trying to warn a surfer that he was being stalked by a massive 20-foot shark. While the aircraft crashed, a pod of dolphin was luckily nearby to push the surfer to safety from the lurking shark.

The surfer, Bill Ballard, shared his crazy story with The Daily Mail Australia, providing the publication with a video and photos from the beach.

Ballard had been surfing at Wallagoot Beach in New South Wales on Sept. 25. He told the publication that he had called to his mother who was on shore to take a video of him surfing, but she was distracted with the view overhead. That’s when Ballard noticed a gyroplane circling around above him, making unusually low passes.

A gyroplane by itself is something of a peculiar sight. The rotor aircraft looks somewhat like a helicopter, but its overhead rotor is unpowered. A gyroplane instead gets its power from a pusher-prop at the back of the aircraft. The airflow created by this pusher-prop has the ability to rotate the overhead rotor, helping to give the aircraft lift. In flight, a gyroplane’s overhead rotor will continue to spin through the autorotation created by the airflow.

What made the sighting of this gyroplane all the more peculiar was that its pilot and passenger were frantically trying to get Ballard’s attention.

“I looked up to see two people in an aircraft and they were almost hanging over the side screaming at me, ‘shark, shark’ and pointing at a big shadow in the water fairly close to me,” Ballard told The Daily Mail Australia.

After taking the low pass to warn Ballard, the gyroplane’s pilot realized he had flown too low and struggled to make it back to the shoreline and instead crashed in the surf.

Around this time, Ballard did start paddling for the shoreline.

Ballard captured his immediate reaction to the chaos in a video he shared with the Daily Mail:

In a separate interview reported by Transcontinental, Ballard said he was aware of a nearby pod of dolphins and initially thought the pilot and passenger of the gyroplane were mistaken about seeing a shark. Ballard said he at first trusted the old surfing myth that “where dolphins swim, there are never sharks.”

But Ballard said these dolphins were acting strange. Ballard said he’d surfed near dolphins multiple times before, but this time they were behaving differently.

“It’s hard to describe, but they kept coming up to the surface to look at me and also began swimming back and forward, coming closer and trying to push me towards the shore,” he said.

As Ballard got to shore and rushed over with his mother to the sight of the crash, he said he was surprised that the passenger of the gyroplane was more focused on him than the fact that she had just been in an aircraft crash.

“She kept saying, ‘that shark was so close to you, so close, and it was the biggest one I’ve ever seen. It must have been around 20 feet long,” he said.

Ballard shared a photo of the crashed gyroplane with the Daily Mail Australia.

The surfer said he eventually learned that the pilot had extensive experience viewing sea life from overhead after years of using the gyroplane for dolphin and whale watching.

“The pilot and passenger were so courageous to put themselves in harm’s way to save me from a potential shark attack,” Ballard said. “I am so thankful. They were like guardian angels coming to save me.”