The 44-year-old Queensland man fought off the creature while swimming at Lake Placid, near Cairns, on Thursday.
He had puncture wounds on each side of his face but was “very, very calm” when health care workers arrived to treat him.
“A crocodile had bitten his head, and in his effort to remove the jaws of the crocodile he put his hands in to try and prize the jaws apart,” paramedic Paul Sweeney told reporters. “In the process of trying to remove his hands, the jaws snapped shut on his forefinger. He’s a remarkably lucky gentleman.”
“Just a few centimeters lower and we have major blood vessels … had one of those been punctured, then it would have been a very different story,” Sweeney said.
He said the unnamed man estimated the saltwater crocodile was between a meter and a half and two meters (4.92 feet to 6.56 feet) in length.
Sweeney said the man had been swimming in that area three times a week for about eight years. “Certainly not a place I’d choose to swim,” Sweeney said, describing him as a “very fit individual” and saying “his vital signs were remarkably calm when you consider the ordeal he’d been through.”
“I would not be surprised if he ventured into those waters again for further exercise,” Sweeney added.
The Queensland Environment Department sent a team to the site and said a “search for the crocodile responsible for the attack is now underway.”
“Once rangers are at the site, any crocodile found to be present will be targeted for removal,” they said.
Crocodile attacks in Australia are rare, but Queensland officials run a public safety campaign to alert residents to the risks of swimming or relaxing near croc-infested waters.