Reece Atkinson recovering at his home in Eketahuna on Tuesday after being stabbed in the leg by a stingray. PHOTO/ELISA VORSTER

ELISA VORSTER

elisa.vorster@age.co.nz

Eketahuna volunteer firefighter Reece Atkinson says he had no warning before his leg was struck by a stingray last Sunday.

“We were just finishing our dive — I was walking out of the water and it was murky so I couldn’t see anything”.

He felt a squeeze on his leg and thought it was a shark because it didn’t feel like anything had punctured his leg.

“My leg was still underwater so I didn’t realise how bad it was until I stood up and saw the water was red all around me,” he said in an interview with the Times-Age yesterday.

His first thought was to get out of the water and signal for everyone in his diving party, including his two children, to get out too.

“I saw all the blood in the water and I was thinking the sharks would be pretty hungry.”

It was when he got out of the water that he realised how bad it was.

The blood was flowing out “like [from] a garden hose”.

Mr Atkinson said he had no idea at the time it was a stingray that attacked him.

It became clear after his wetsuit was cut off that his injury was not caused by a shark as there were entry and exit points to his wound.

The stingray barb had pierced the right side of his calf just behind the bone and went through to the left side.

In hindsight, Mr Atkinson agreed that a last-minute change of heart to take a friend along instead of diving alone at a remote spot at Riversdale beach was arguably a life-saving decision.

He was joined by two of his children Nathan and Logan, his friend Ayden Lambert and his four children, and Mr Lambert’s brother, Hanam.

Mr Atkinson endured a 20-minute drive to his aunt’s house before being flown to Wellington Hospital via Westpac Rescue helicopter.

He needed a three-hour operation to clean the toxins out of the wound.

His partner, Letitia Ritchie, drove to Wellington Hospital to join him.

“I knew where he was, he was in good hands,” she said on Tuesday.

Mr Atkinson said the biggest thing for him was the appreciation he had for all the people who helped him, including the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew.

He had been fortunate to have the quick thinking of Mr Lambert, who used a weightlifting belt as a tourniquet to stop the heavy bleeding.

In fact, it was lucky Mr Lambert was there at all, as Mr Atkinson’s original plans with another friend had fallen through.

If Mr Lambert hadn’t decided to join him at the last minute, Mr Atkinson had planned to go out diving alone with his children.

“I don’t know what I would have done — I don’t know if I would have been able to get the kids out or stay conscious long enough to drive.”

The remote dive spot was where Mr Atkinson learnt to dive and had been going there with his family all his life.

He had never considered the area to be dangerous, nor had he ever had any problems with stingrays in the past.

He said even though crocodile hunter Steve Irwin died after being stabbed by a stingray, he still deemed them to be calm and quiet creatures.

“I think the difference was he was probably poking it with a stick and I wasn’t. I guess I just stood on it and it didn’t like it very much.”