News24

Another Oz shark victim?

2000-11-27 08:42

Adelaide, Australia - A diver missing off the Australian coast for a week may have been the fourth victim of a shark attack in three months, police investigating his disappearance said on Monday.

Danny Thorpe, 47, was left clinging to his upturned boat after it was hit by a freak wave in the Great Australian Bight off Ceduna, South Australia, on 20 November when his friend and fellow abalone diver, Howard Rodd, 44, swam to shore.

Rodd survived the 14km swim following a remarkable 50-hour battle on sea and land, but remnants of torn clothing and equipment washed up suggested Thorpe may have been attacked by a shark. The items were among 50 pieces of wreckage found so far.

Thorpe disappeared in an area notorious for great whites - also known as white pointers and the most dangerous of all sharks found off the Australian coast - close to where two men were killed by great whites in September.

Rodd said it was a fear of sharks that prevented Thorpe from also taking to the water and while Rodd survived the swim to safety, the older man could have fallen victim to a great white.

Police said tests would be conducted on Monday on a life vest and a lunchbox washed up near Ceduna to determine if marks on the items had been made by a shark.

"The flotation vest has been torn and it's important to know whether or not that damage was caused by a shark or if it could have been caused by tearing against a rock face or a ledge in the sea," police chief inspector Malcolm Schluter told reporters.

"We expect the experts will be able to tell us exactly what caused the tears to the lifejacket and what took the huge chunk out of the side of the lunchbox."

Rodd told reporters last week that Thorpe was petrified of sharks and it was that fear which prevented him leaving the upturned boat after it was hit by a freak wave.

"I stayed with him and we sat on the boat for hours and hours, but the trouble was we were being blown offshore," Rodd said.

"We had a spare wetsuit in the boat but he wouldn't put it on.

"He said he'd look like a seal and he wanted to leave his wet weather gear on because it was a fluorescent colour."

Rodd said he was also terrified of sharks and he started his swim using the lid of an "esky" (a buoyant food and drink cooler) so as not to attract attention.

Half blinded by salt and petrol that poured from their boat into the water, Rodd swam all night. Twelve hours after leaving Thorpe he spotted a small headland and made for that.

As he swam as quickly as he could, a black fin surfaced next to him.

"I thought that was the end of everything, I thought I was dead," he said. "Then I heard it breathe and I knew it was a dolphin."

A full 24 hours after the boat capsized, he finally reached land about noon last Tuesday.

But he came ashore on an isolated part of the South Australian coast and stumbled around on mangrove swamps and unused dirt roads looking for food for another full day before he was found by passing motorists and taken to hospital.

A New Zealand tourist was killed by a great white while surfing at Cactus Beach in South Australia on 24 September. The following day a 17-year-old local surfer was killed when he was dragged off his surfboard by another great white off Blacks Point, South Australia.

On 6 November, a 49-year-old man was taken by a great white at Perth's Cottesloe beach in Western Australia. - Sapa-AFP