A DIVER has said he is "extremely lucky to be alive" after a freak attack in which a giant conger eel bit away a huge chunk of his face.
Galway man Jimmy Griffin (48), an experienced deep-sea diver of over 20 years, was taking part in an expedition in Killary fjord, Co Galway.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, he recalled the frightening moment when the eel attacked. "Suddenly I got hit with what felt like a really strong punch in the face. I felt like a rag doll.
"It gripped on to my face and threw me about violently. It was biting, pulling and twisting on my face," he said.
Mr Griffin, who owns a bakery on Shop Street in Galway city, knew he had to remain calm.
"I couldn't panic, we were 25m under water. My regulator had been knocked from my mouth, so to panic would have made the situation a whole lot worse with the risk of drowning.
"When it finally let go, I could see that it was a conger eel swimming away from me, bigger than myself, so over 6ft in length," said Mr Griffin. "It was about the width of a human thigh, so it was very strong."
Mr Griffin, who was taking part in the dive last month with friends, had to make sure he didn't surface too quickly in case he got decompression sickness, known as the bends.
He was brought to shore and then an ambulance took him to University Hospital Galway.
"I am a very lucky man to be alive today. I owe my life to so many people who made sure I got to the hospital," said Mr Griffin.
"The plastic surgeons have done a fantastic job. I don't even know how many stitches I have on both the inside and outside of mouth but they say the scar will eventually be unnoticeable."