CNN  — 

An Australian man bitten on the head by a crocodile while snorkeling in the sea off far north Queensland escaped the unusual attack by prizing open the reptile’s jaws.

Marcus McGowan, a keen surfer and diver, was snorkeling with his wife and a group of friends near a remote island off the country’s northern tip, when he realized something had “got its jaws around my head.”

In a statement Tuesday, McGowan said he immediately thought he’d been bitten by a shark, “but when I reached up I realised it was a crocodile.”

“I was able to lever its jaws open just far enough to get my head out,” recalled the Gold Coast resident, who said the crocodile then struck at him again, but he managed to push it away with his hand.

The boat that had taken McGowan’s group to the diving spot near Charles Hardy Islands, some 40 kilometers off the coast, heard their screams and came to retrieve them.

McGowan was rushed to Haggerston, a resort island some 45 minutes away, before being helicoptered to a regional hospital. He suffered cuts and puncture wounds to his head and hands.

“I was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I’m just grateful it was me and not one of the kids or ladies in the group,” he said in the statement.

McGowan said the attack happened so quickly he was unable to get a proper look at the croc but guesses it was a juvenile, about two to three meters long.

Saltwater crocodiles can grow up to six meters long and weigh up to 1,000 kilograms, according to Australia Zoo.

Known locally as “salties,” the reptiles are more commonly found in the country’s warmer northern regions. According to federal government estimates, there are about 100,000 saltwater crocodiles in Australia.

Crocodiles were sighted on nine occasions in Cook Shire on Cape York since the start of this year, according to the Queensland government.