Craig's crocodile attack

We live in a vast and remarkable country. Yet, it can be a very dangerous place.

Wildlife Ranger, Craig Dickmann, found that out the hard way when he was attacked, out of the blue, by a 2.5 metre saltwater crocodile while fishing at Captain Billy Landing, 900km north of Cairns. 

As the predator disappeared under the water, Craig assessed his wounds. 

Graphic: Craig with RFDS team

Both of Craig’s legs were bleeding heavily from deep wounds, and most worryingly of all, the crocodile had torn the skin from his right hand. A very serious injury that is known as ‘degloving’.

Adrenaline still racing through his body, Craig jumped in his car and with one good arm, drove 45 minutes to the Healthlands Ranger Base where he works.

He knew he could phone for help and that he’d find life-saving supplies stored in the Flying Doctor Medical Chest. One of 2,338 Medical Chests placed in remote locations across Australia, giving people access to essential first aid and buying them time until
our crews arrive.

Almost as soon as Craig arrived at Heathlands, Medical Officer Katrina Starmer was on the phone, talking Craig and his colleague through the step-by-step process of patching him up using the contents of the Medical Chest. She was also a member of the flight crew that was in the air just an hour later and on their way to rescue Craig.

Katrina and the crew made their way to Bramwell Cattle Station, where they planned to make a night landing on the dirt airstrip. By this stage, the effects of shock and blood loss were starting to kick in and Craig felt faint and unsteady on his feet. His colleague wasted no time in helping him into a car for the drive to Bramwell Cattle Station.

Meanwhile the station manager at Bramwell saddled up to muster her cattle, which were grazing on the runway, and then marked out a landing strip with solar-powered landing lights.

Seeing the Flying Doctor coming in to land was such a welcome sight for Craig.

“I was very happy to see them. I knew that I was in good hands and that I was going to get back to Cairns. I really don’t know what would have happened without the Flying Doctor. I don’t know how bad things could have got. I’m extremely grateful for the Flying Doctor Medical Chest and the professionalism of the medical team that flew to help me that day.”

Graphic: Crocodile

Katrina assessed Craig’s condition and to everyone’s relief, no major arteries had been damaged. The main concern for Craig was his ‘degloved’ right hand, and whether he might actually lose it. To his huge relief, Katrina felt confident it would heal with time.

Our team helped Craig into the aircraft so that Katrina could redress his wounds, administer pain relief and make him comfortable for the flight to Cairns Hospital.

However, Craig wasn’t our crew’s only passenger that night.

As our aircraft made its way through the night sky back to Cairns, the crew received another emergency call... a suspected snakebite near Aurukun, on the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula. Katrina had just minutes to weigh up the odds... Craig’s condition had stabilised, and the woman in Aurukun could be in real trouble. Katrina made the call to divert the flight. What’s more, there wasn’t enough fuel on board to land at Aurukun and make it back to Cairns.

But thanks to wonderful Flying Doctor supporters, there’s a network of refuelling stations all over the country. So Katrina knew she could divert to Coen Station to refuel without losing too much time.

All the moving parts of this rescue mission went off without a hitch.

Later, with their second patient safely on board, the crew made the final leg of their journey back to Cairns, with both patients admitted to Cairns Hospital at 11pm.

Want more?
 You can listen to RFDS Medical Officer Katrina Starmer's recount of this incredible rescue for free on the Flying Doctor Podcast.