Shark victim's daily swim turns fatal
The search for Tathra resident Christine Armstrong will continue on Friday morning after she appeared to have been taken by a shark.PT1M32S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-360zu 620 349 April 3, 2014
A south coast town already too familiar with tragedy is reeling after the shark attack death of a woman two years after fears were publicly raised that swimmers might be in danger.
Christine Armstrong, 63, was believed to have been mauled to death about 8.20am on Thursday as she and a group of swimmers - including her husband of 44 years - ploughed their way across the 400-metre stretch of water between Tathra beach and the town's wharf during their regular morning exercise.
About halfway through the return swim, Mrs Armstrong turned around to head back to the beach, separating from her husband, Rob, and the other four swimmers. She wasn't seen again.
Tathra fatal shark attack
Flowers rest on the front verandah of the Tathra SLSC club rooms. Photo: Graham Tidy
The other swimmers spotted a ''large shark'' on their way back to the beach and grouped together as they returned to shore.
A police spokesman said a witness who was on the rocks saw a shark ''mauling something'' near where Mrs Armstrong would have been swimming.
Thursday's shark attack comes just two years after warnings from the same swimming group of which Mrs Armstrong was a part that shark-baiting by fisherman in the area was putting lives at risk. Under the headline ''Tragedy waiting to happen'', Fairfax newspaper the Bega District News reported in March 2012, that the Tathra Surf Life Saving Club's then-surf boat captain, Sharon Clarke, had warned that shark fishing off the local wharf was attracting sharks to the area.
Christine Armstrong, 63, of Tathra.
She said the swimming group was rethinking its regular swims because of fears about sharks.
Ms Clarke had travelled out on a club boat to check up on a black balloon floating not far from the beach. It was holding a bait to lure sharks in for fishermen on the wharf.
Mrs Armstrong's death also contributes to a pall of tragedy that hangs over Tathra, east of Bega.
Christine Armstrong and her husband of 44 years, Rob. Photo: Channel Nine
In 2008 a young father and his two sons, aged four and 15 months, drowned in the deep, choppy waters below the Tathra wharf. The trio had been fishing when the boys fell five metres into the water. Their father jumped in after them and died valiantly trying to save his boys.
Meanwhile, police and local surf life savers at Tathra will continue their search on Friday for Mrs Armstrong's remains.
Her family issued a statement on Thursday describing the Tathra Surf Life Saving Club trainer as a someone to whom swimming brought joy.
''Chris was very loved by many people. She has been swimming at Tathra beach for 14 years and was an experienced and committed member of the surf club,'' the statement read.
Mr Armstrong was among the initial surf club members to start the search for his wife in the surf club boats, before other members came to join in, including Tony Rettke, a friend of the Armstrongs.
''I'm a bit numb at the moment, I'm feeling for Rob,'' he said.
''I normally swim with them, I didn't today … but my wife did.
''Rob and Chris, they probably started the whole [morning swim ritual] off, which was lovely. They're from Western Australia and they did lots of ocean swimming over there.''
Mr Rettke said shark fishing in the area was banned by the local government ''about 10 or 15 years ago'' but it still happened.
''It's not a sharky area - they would set balloons probably half a kilometre out in the open sea … it's not like there are sharks at the wharf,'' he said.
Tathra woman Molly Carroll, who was on the beach just minutes before the fatal attack, described the scene as ''eerie''.
''It is a bit of a shock,'' she said. ''It is a bit of an eerie feeling.''
Tathra Beach was closed following the fatal attack, with police not confirming reports that remains had been found.
They said the group of swimmers was treated for shock and underwent general observation.
Two surf lifesaving vessels, along with local fishing vessels under the coordination of NSW Water Police,
also searched for the shark. The search appeared painstaking; inflatable surf boats motored along at slow speeds as wet-suited volunteers in dive masks leaned over each side with their faces in the water.
''The police don't want us in the water because of the risk of sharks, so we're putting our faces in and you can see quite clearly about six metres deep,'' Mr Rettke said. ''In most places you can see to the bottom. There are some spots you're about a metre too high, but you can still see shadows. Emergency services are doing what they can for them but naturally they're shocked and horrified by what's occurred,'' said a police spokesperson.
The alert went out shortly after 8.40am on Thursday, with police, surf lifesavers, the ambulance service and the Lifesaver 3 helicopter called to the scene.
The woman's death is the second fatal shark attack in NSW waters in five months. Zac Young, a 19-year-old bodyboarder died, after he was attacked by a tiger shark at Campbells Beach north of Coffs Harbour on November 20 last year.