The last thing you'd expect when enjoying a relaxing surf is to spot two people hanging out of a low-flying aircraft screaming, "shark, shark!".
The situation still seems unreal to NSW South Coast surfer Bill Ballard who'd gone out for one of his regular surfing sessions at Wallagoot Beach on September 25 when an aircraft flew down to warn him of a shark swimming dangerously close.
"I looked up at both of the people in the aircraft and they were almost hanging over the side screaming at me, 'shark, shark!' and pointing at a big shadow in the water 20 metres away," Bill said.
Unfortunately for the passengers aboard the aircraft, their heroic attempts at flying low enough to catch the surfer's attention meant they had lost too much air to pull back up and were forced to aim for the beach.
While successfully warning Bill, who caught the next wave back in, their attempts to reach land fell short as they crashed into the water a few metres from shore.
"I heard the engine overpowering as they were trying to make it to the sand, but they were losing altitude," he said.
Bill said when he'd rushed over to check if they were alright, he had been taken aback by the fact the woman was more focused on his near encounter with the shark than the fact that she'd just been in a 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.
The pair had told Bill they'd spent years flying over the coast, especially during the whale watching season.
When flying over Wallagoot, they'd circled around to watch the dolphins having a feeding frenzy on a big school of salmon, which Bill was unknowingly surfing in.
While watching the dolphins, they noticed a "huge" shark approaching. Once they realised someone was surfing in amongst it all, they focused all their attention on trying to warn them.
Bill was told the pair had decided there was no way they would fly away without doing something.
"I am so thankful. They were like guardian angels coming to save me," he said.
When asked if he'd seen the shark, Bill said he hadn't noticed it. Instead, he believed in the old surfing myth that "where dolphins swim, there are never sharks'.
"At first, I thought they must have mistaken it for a dolphin and I kept asking if they were sure it wasn't, but the pilot said, 'no, I've been flying for years and I know exactly what a shark looks like," he said.
Bill said he'd surfed near dolphins multiple times before, but they'd behaved differently this time.
"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.
Meanwhile, back on land, Bill's mother, Janine, had watched everything unfold and had been one of the first to run towards the aircraft when it had crashed.
"I watched them circle twice around Bill, and I hadn't realised they were trying to contact him, and on the third loop, they were literally hanging out the side of it pointing at the shark," she said.
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Janine added they had been flying closer to the water to try and scare the shark off.
"They told us that the lower they got, the more the shark seemed to move away from Bill. They were just petrified for him," she said.
Janine said everything happened so quickly that she noticed something was wrong when the pair tried to take off again but began dropping altitude.
"I watched it thinking ', they're trying to get to the beach, but they're not going to make it, because they kept falling and then it just went bang into the water," she said.
Janine said she'd called emergency services, but no one had been dispatched to help because there were no severe injuries.
Instead, a small group helped pull the aircraft out of the water, brought some warm towels and food for the passengers and drove them back to their cars.
Janine said she couldn't imagine what would have happened if the pair hadn't warned Bill about the shark.
"Thank God they were there. I mean, what if you don't know what could have happened? The shark could have swum off and not been interested in Bill, but if they hadn't, I could have turned around and he'd be gone," she said.
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