03/10/2019 18:51 EDT

Man Escapes Whale's Mouth After Being Swept Inside While Snorkeling

"I instinctively held my breath, assuming that it would dive down again and spit me out somewhere."

It wasn’t exactly the tale of Jonah, but one man still has a whale of a story to tell.

South African dive tour operator Rainer Schimpf recalled nearly being swallowed by a whale after he was mistakenly swept into its jaws during a sardine feeding frenzy last month.

The 51-year-old was snorkeling near Port Elizabeth Harbour when a series of photos captured him being sucked headfirst into a Bryde’s whale’s mouth. (Check out the video here or above.)

“There was no time for fear or any emotion,” he told The Telegraph. “I knew instantly what had happened. I knew that a whale had come and taken me and I instinctively held my breath, assuming that it would dive down again and spit me out somewhere in the depths of the Indian Ocean.”

He’s lucky it didn’t ― Bryde’s whales, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, can dive for five to 15 minutes and can reach depths of up to 1,000 feet.

Barcroft Animals
South African dive tour operator Rainer Schimpf was swimming off the coast when he was accidentally swept into a whale's mouth.

A photographer who witnessed the dramatic scene from a nearby boat immediately began snapping away, capturing everything but Schimpf’s legs vanishing inside the whale.

Fortunately, almost as soon as the unfortunate gulp began, Schimpf said, the whale released its jaw, allowing him to slip free to the surface.

Schimpf and witnesses around him described it as a lucky break, likely stemming from a misunderstanding.

kanyapak katsang via Getty Images
A Bryde’s whale pictured in Thailand.

“Whales are no man-eaters,” witness Claudia Weber-Gebert told Barcroft Animals in an interview. “This was no attack. It was no fault of the whale. They are really sensitive, they are gentle giants, and it was just an accident.”

Schimpf also suggested that the whale was likely just as surprised as he was.

“It was an interesting experience for me but surely nothing I’d like to do again,” he told Barcroft Animals. “I don’t think I had a whale of a time, but I now have the inside knowledge of a whale which nobody else has.”