Australian woman taken by 'very big' 4-metre-long shark off popular beach in New South Wales

Police said the partial remains of a woman had been found before bad weather stopped the search

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The Independent Online

A 63-year-old woman has been taken by a "very big" shark while out on a morning swim off a popular beach in New South Wales, Australia.

Christine Armstrong was swimming with five others between the wharf and the beach near the village of Tathra, when the group was attacked by a 4-metre-long shark.

The ambulance service told ABC News the partial remains of a woman had been found before the search was called off earlier due to bad weather, though police said it was too early to say if they were linked to the attack.

Ms Armstrong and her husband Rob Armstrong were members of the local lifeguarding club and had been swimming the stretch of around 600m (2,000ft) every morning for 14 years.

Police said they believed the 63-year-old was targeted after becoming separated from the group.

Inspector Jason Edmunds said: "Rob was part of the other group of five people and he did see a shark. He described it as 3 or 4 metres long and very big," he said.

"The group joined up together and did their best to keep the shark at bay, although it didn't directly attack them," he told Nine Network television.

"What type of shark we're not able to speculate, but [Mr Armstrong] was part of the group that had kept swimming when his wife turned back."

Mr Edmunds said the group did not then see the attack, but a witness onshore did.

The Tathra Wharf to Waves — a swim from the wharf to the beach and back again — is an annual event that attracts hundreds of swimmers each summer.

Local council general manager Leanne Barnes described the incident as "one of those sad things that can happen" in an otherwise "beautiful little coastal village".

In a statement, Ms Armstrong's family said: "Swimming brought her much joy and many friends.

"She will be sadly missed by all who loved her, especially by Rob, her husband of 44 years." 

The incident occurred at around 8.30am local time today, and police said a helicopter and boat had been used to search for remains before the bad weather set in.

Although sharks are common off Australia's coast, the country has averaged fewer than two fatal attacks per year in recent decades. But such incidents appear to be becoming more common. Two men were killed in shark attacks off the east and west coasts in the space of a week in November last year.

And in a separate incident on Wednesday police recovered the remains of a 38-year-old man reported missing last week while diving south of the west coast city of Perth. Police said the remains had shark bites, but it was not clear whether the man had been bitten before or after he died.