A DIVER is "extremely lucky to be alive" after a giant conger eel bit a huge chunk out of his face.
Jimmy Griffin (48), an experienced deep sea diver for over 20 years, got into difficulties as he made his way back from an expedition in Killary Fjord, Connemara, Co Galway.
"Suddenly I got hit with what felt like a really strong punch in the face," Mr Griffin told the Herald. "I felt like a rag doll. It gripped onto my face and threw me about violently. It was biting, pulling and twisting on my face," he said.
"I got this horrendous feeling of numbness in the left side of my face," he added. "My regulator fell out and my vision became really cloudy because of the blood rising in the water in front of me.
"The blood looked like octopus ink, very dark."
The owner of a bakery shop on Shop Street, Galway city, Jimmy has over 200 logged dives to his name, so knew that he had to remain calm in the situation.
"I couldn't panic – we were 25 meters under water. My regulator (breathing apparatus) 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 six feet in length," said Jimmy. "It was about the width of a human thigh, so it's a very strong."
Jimmy attended the dive in Killary Fjord with friends, which was part of a sports gear manufacturer's promotion to test out new equipment.
"I had a 'buddy' underwater with me who was also part of the session.
"He didn't see the incident because it all happened so quickly," said Jimmy, who had to wait four hours before making it to hospital because of the time it took to get back to land and wait for an ambulance.
"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."
"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," he said.
Jimmy had dropped his mother-in-law and seven- year-old-daughter off at a nearby beach before going on out on the dive, so they were "blissfully unaware" that he had been taken away by ambulance to Clifden.
"That was definitely for the best. They were better off not seeing me," he said.
Kevin Flannery, director of the Dingle Ocean World Aquarium, says conger eel attacks are very rare in Ireland.
"They would be strong enough to kill a grown octopus, but human attacks are extremely rare."