Hannah Papps was just 12 when she lost her leg in a shark attack. But she’s stunned her family by making an amazing recovery.
Hannah Papps was just 12 when she lost her leg in a shark attack. But she’s stunned her family by making an amazing recovery.

Young shark attack survivor makes a remarkable recovery

A brave Melbourne schoolgirl who lost a leg in a shark attack has left her family in awe as they paid tribute to the rescuers who saved her life.

Hannah Papps, aged 12 when attacked on holiday in the Whitsundays last year, returned to school just three months after the terrifying incident.

She is back playing the trumpet in two bands and even embarked on an overnight river rafting excursion with what she calls her "bionic" leg.

Father David Papps, speaking in an article for Queensland's RACQ CQ Rescue helicopter service, said his daughter's determination was an inspiration.

"Hannah is a very resilient person,'' Mr Papps said.

Hannah was transferred from Mackay to Brisbane after sustaining life-threatening injuries in the attack Photo: Daryl Wright
Hannah was transferred from Mackay to Brisbane after sustaining life-threatening injuries in the attack Photo: Daryl Wright

"It's been an awful lot for a 12-year-old to go through but she's just got on with life. That's just how she is."

Hannah, now aged 13, was sailing on a chartered yacht with her father, two older brothers and family from New Zealand when bitten during a swim in Cid Harbour.

Tasmanian woman Justine Barwick, 47, was attacked at the same spot just 24 hours earlier but Hannah's family had no idea.

"We've visited the area many times and have sailed the Whitsundays for about six or seven years,'' Mr Papps said.

"Cid Harbour is our favourite anchorage. It was a lovely day.

"We'd just been for a walk to the top of Whitsunday Peak and were cooling down with a swim from the boat after lunch.

"Hannah was very close to the back of the boat when it (the attack) happened.

The attack occurred in tranquil Cid Harbour. Picture: Daryl Wright
The attack occurred in tranquil Cid Harbour. Picture: Daryl Wright

"We got her on to the boat within seconds. It was a very traumatic injury and obvious that we needed help quickly.

"My sister, who is a vet, stopped the bleeding and we got on the marine radio first, then mobile phone straight away.

"The emergency services people were very good. We were very lucky that the police launch was nearby and they were alongside within about 30 minutes. The helicopter was there soon after."

The Mackay-based rescue helicopter flew about 100km to the shore of Whitsunday Island before water police ferried the doctor and paramedic to the vessel.

The little girl had lost a lot of blood and consciousness - medicos branding her life-threatening injuries "absolutely horrific".

Hannah was flown to hospital in Mackay before being transferred to Brisbane and having a leg amputated above the knee.

A drum line lures a shark in Cid Harbour in the Whitsundays.
A drum line lures a shark in Cid Harbour in the Whitsundays.

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She was eventually transferred to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital where she had a prosthetic leg fitted and underwent rehabilitation.

The recovery has astounded Hannah's family, which also includes mum Justine Barwick.

"She got the OK to take her new leg home in February. She was pretty chuffed," Mr Papps told RACQ CQ Rescue.

"She's pretty active now - playing trumpet in the school band and a community band.

"I just can't express how thankful we are to CQ Rescue, the water police and all the medical professionals who helped us. It's truly overwhelming.

"It was really a one in a million thing. I guess you think that sort of thing happens to other people, not yourself or your family."

- To support the RACQ CQ Rescue helicopter service, go to cqrescue.org.au/donate

wes.hosking@news.com.au

Paramedics frantically working to save Hannah’s life after the shark attack. Picture: RACQ CQ Rescue
Paramedics frantically working to save Hannah’s life after the shark attack. Picture: RACQ CQ Rescue
Paralympic champion Ellie Cole visited brave shark attack survivor Hannah Papps in hospital.
Paralympic champion Ellie Cole visited brave shark attack survivor Hannah Papps in hospital.
Authorities haul in a tiger shark from Cid Harbour after catching in drum lines.
Authorities haul in a tiger shark from Cid Harbour after catching in drum lines.

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