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Cottesloe priest Fr Liam Ryan, along with other rescuers, was earlier this in March announced as a Bravery Award recipient by the Governor General. Photo: SJOG Health Care.
You may not expect a priest to surf, let alone rescue someone attacked by a shark 100 metres offshore, but Father Liam Ryan, former Chaplain at St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals was earlier this year recognised with a national bravery reward for that very feat.
Fr Liam, along with other rescuers, was earlier this in March announced as a Bravery Award recipient by the Governor General.
He was recognised for displaying considerable bravery during the rescue of 28-year-old surfer Phil Mummert, following a shark attack at Bunker Bay, Western Australia, on 31 July 2020.
Fr Liam Ryan, with his parents Michael and Rita, following his ordination to the priesthood in 2019. Photo: Jamie O’Brien.
Fr Liam said he felt very honoured and grateful for receiving the award, but really acted on instinct.
“I was holidaying down south with my good friend Jess Woolhouse and his family, and we decided to go for a quick surf at Bunker Bay,” Fr Liam explained.
“We had not been in the water long and were paddling back out to catch our second wave, when I noticed the dorsal fin of a five-metre great white shark surfacing next to a surfer.
“The shark lunged at the surfer, biting into his surfboard and lower leg, tipping the surfer into the water.
“It was very surreal, the surfer was floating in the water and surrounded by lots of tiny bits of his surfboard.”
Phil was able to shove half of his broken surfboard into the shark's open mouth. The shark continued to circle with the injured man fending it off.
Fr Liam said after initially shouting out for help, it dawned on him that he was the one who needed to provide the help, so he and his friend Jess Woolhouse paddled out to Phil and were soon also joined by another surfer, Alex Oliver.
“As we approached Phil, we could see that the shark had bitten his leg very badly and we paddled as fast as possible the 100 metres back to shore, while he lay injured and bleeding on a longboard,” he said.
Fr Liam Ryan, with his brothers, following his ordination to the priesthood in 2019. Photo: Jamie O’Brien
“Others came and helped us on the beach and provided support until a rescue helicopter arrived an hour later and took him to Bunbury Hospital.
“Phil was very lucky, we later found out that the shark just missed his main artery. You might call that luck but I like to think it was providence.
“Two years later we have all since become close friends and regularly catch up.”
All three rescuers received the Bravery Award. They were also awarded the 2021 Surf Life Saving WA’s annual Coastal Bravery Award.
Father Liam is now based at Star of the Sea Church, Cottesloe.
Courtesy St John of God Health Care