An Australian schoolboy braved bloodied seas yesterday to try to save his friend who had been mauled by a shark off a popular beach while the pair were bodyboarding.
But the victim, Peter Edmonds, 16, died of blood loss after being bitten in the upper leg and body off Ballina, about 500 miles north of Sydney. It was the first fatal shark attack in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, for 15 years.
Brock Mathew, the victim's friend, was commended for "an extreme act of bravery" after he swam out to help him, despite seeing a circling shark. He brought Peter back to shore and tried to revive him.
With school starting late yesterday because of a teachers' stop-work meeting, the two teenagers had decided to go bodyboarding off Lighthouse Beach. Brock was leaving the water at about 8am when he looked back and saw that his friend was "in a bit of trouble". He paddled back out, and, as he approached his friend, saw a "big grey shadow" pass by him.
Peter was about 50 yards from shore, face down in the water. "I thought he was only joking, so I went over to him, and as I flipped him over, I saw his leg," Brock said. He added: "He didn't make one noise."
After dragging his friend to shore, Brock helped lifeguards and paramedics as they tried to resuscitate him. A spokesman for the surf lifesaving service, Stephen Leahy, said that, as Brock swam towards his friend, "he saw the water turning red".
It was the first fatal shark attack in Australia for two years, and experts said that conditions off Lighthouse Beach, near a river estuary, were dangerous yesterday. Heavy rain had made the sea murky, reducing visibility, and would also have attracted shoals of fish, and, in turn, sharks.
Australia has one of the world's highest rate of shark attacks but few of them are fatal. The Shark Institute of Australia says sharks have killed 11 people off its shores in 50 years. The last fatal attack was in Queensland in early 2006, when a 21-year-old woman was mauled by three bull sharks, which ripped both her arms off before biting into her torso and legs.
A bull shark is also believed responsible for this latest attack. Residents had spotted several of them. Bull sharks are considered the third most dangerous species, after great whites and tiger sharks. Beaches in and around Ballina were closed, as hunters searched for the shark.
Peter Edmonds' 20-year-old sister, Kylie, said her parents were numb from loss. "They are not coping very well. They lost their baby; what more can you say?" she said. "The only boy in the family, and he was such a good kid. He was fun, he was loving ... he was a really friendly guy."
Detective Inspector Steve Clark of Ballina Police, praised Brock, and said that he deserved a medal for his courage. "It was an extreme act of bravery to re-enter the water, and he's still gone in to retrieve his friend," he said. "It's an exceptional act."
Zoologists said the recent downpours would have caused a heavy flow of fresh water into the ocean from the nearby Richmond River, attracting shoals of fish. Sharks are known to congregate near river mouths to feed in rainy weather.
Mr Leahy told ABC radio: "The water was dirty and murky, and it is one of the things which we would always say, that's not a good time to go swimming."