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NEWSFILE: SHARK STORIES

PAINFUL SOUVENIR OF A TOOTH-AND-NAIL FIGHT

Leo Ryan, missing left forearm and fistful of fingers on his right hand were the dreadful legacy of the horrific shark attack he only just survived on November 25, 1950.

But unbeknownst to him, he then spent the next half century carrying another memento of the frightful mauling he took late that afternoon in the surf off Burleigh Heads on Queensland's Gold Coast - a piece of shark tooth embedded in the base of his spine.

It was hardly surprising it was not detect on the day itself, given the extent of his injuries.

The 3. 6 m bronze whaler had ripped into his buttocks, hurling him 10m into the air before boring in on him again.

Ryan had the presence of mind to remember the myth about poking an attacking shark in the eye. ‘But whoever cam up with that adage overlooked the fact that to get at the eyes, you have to go past the mouth and that 'show I lost my hand and fingers, ’ said Ryan, now 6 9.

Somehow he managed to catch a wave and surf towards the beach where he was rescued by a 17-year-old lifesaver, who was to become a leading identity in Australian Rugby Union, Gavin Horsley.

By the time he was transported to hospital in Brisbane [that 's about an hour away, by screaming ambulance - PD], he had virtually no pulse, yet somehow managed to inform the doctors of his blood group. For the next four hours a team of seven specialists battled to save his life, stitching his body back together again.

Meanwhile, the hunt was on for the man-eating shark, which was hooked the next day and killed. Its massive jaws were extracted and later presented to Ryan as a keepsake. Although he is anything but a vengeful man, he at least felt he eventually got the better of his attacker each time he looked at those rows of razor sharp teeth.

But the shark wasn't finished yet. For 48 years, the fragment of tooth burrowed into his spine, spasmodically poisoning his legs. ‘I always blamed the original doctor who treated me for giving me a transfusion with a rusty needle, ’ Ryan said. ‘He's dead now, that doctor, but I realise I owe him an apology. ‘

Three months a go, a lump began to form in his lower back. Doctors ordered a battery of tests, X-rays and scans to determine the cause. All came back negative. Eventually, it was decided to operate. His spine was scraped and the ‘growth’ was rushed off to pathology for analysis. Ryan waited grimly for the results, expecting the worst, so he was somewhat taken aback when his doctor burst out laughing when given the analysis over the phone. ‘ You're not going to believe this, but it's a bit of shark tooth, ’ the doctor told him.

Ryan sees the funny side of the shark having one last ‘bite’ at him, but he also plans to have the last laugh. ‘I'm trying to get the fragment of tooth back from the pathology lab so that I can get it fitted into a chain that I can wear around my neck, ’ he said.

He might not have succeeded in 1950, but Ryan is determined that , one way or another, he's going to give that shark another poke in the eye !

Melbourne 'Age' newspaper(Australia), January 30, 1997, page A8, ’In Brief' column.

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Man Attacks Shark.

A New Zealand man jumped off a boat yesterday to wrestle a four-metre thresher shark in the South Island tourist spot of Milford Sound. Grant Lightfoot, who killed the shark with a knife, said: 'I don't know why I did it. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing'. - Reuters

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The Independent - 11 Sept 1998

Divers inquest points to sharks

When Thomas and Eileen Lonergan joined other tourists on a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef last January, no one took much notice of them. At St Crispin Reef, where the boat, M. V. Outer Edge, pulled up for the day, they donned their diving gear, jumped overboard into the turquoise waters of the Coral Sea and disappeared beneath the surface. for good.

For the Lonergans, the trouble was that no one noticed they were missing on the trip back to shore either. Two days passed before anyone realised that the American couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had been left behind in the open sea almost 40 nautical miles from shore.

In the eight months since they vanished, the mystery of what happened to the couple has deepened and theories have abounded. Some of their diving gear has washed ashore, intact, on the north Queensland coast. Eileen Lonergan's diary has been found, in which she wrote that her husband had a ‘death wish’.

Was it simply an appalling mistake that they were left behind, to drown or be eaten by sharks? Or did they engineer their own disappearance - and, if so, why?

This week, an inquest opened in Cairns, Queensland. Johnny and Kathy Haines, Eileen Lonergan's parents, have flown in to attend.

With no body or body parts to prove that their daughter and her husband are dead, they must deal with speculation that they could still be alive.

Police have received at least 25 reports that the couple have been seen more than 1,000 miles away, in locations stretching from the outback of New South Wales to Darwin in the Northern Territory.

Thomas Lonergan, 34, and Eileen, 28, who were on holiday in Port Douglas, Queensland, were experienced scuba divers. Richard Triggs, a fellow passenger on the Outer Edge, told the inquest that , after the third and final dive of the day, the couple had told a diving instructor that they would ‘go off and do their own thing’. The boat returned to Port Douglas at about 3pm. But, police told the inquest, no one checked if all 26 passengers were on board.

Two days later Jack Nairn, the Outer Edge's owner and skipper, found the Lonergans dive bag on the boat.

He told police: ‘I looked in the bag and thought, ’Jesus Christ, it’s got a wallet and papers in it'. ‘

Police and the Australian navy launched a sea and air search lasting several days, but there was no trace.

Then in early February, the Lonergans' scuba vests were found on a beach near Cooktown, about 100 miles north of Port Douglas. In June, a diving slate was found elsewhere with a message apparently scrawled by one of the Lonergans. ‘We have been abandoned . by M. V. Outer Edge, ’it said. ‘Help!’.

If the Lonergans did stage their ‘disappearance’, then save themselves, they would have had to swim almost four miles to the nearest pontoon, at Agincourt Reef. But then they would have been marooned.

At the inquest, counsel for the Outer Edge's owners suggested that Thomas Lonergan could have murdered his wife, then committed suicide. Counsel for the couple's families said the idea was ‘outrageous’, ’disgusting’ and ‘slanderous’.

The most grim explanation has so far come from Ben Cropp, a veteran Australian scuba diver who lives in Port Douglas and knows the Barrier Reef intimately. He said he thought the Lonergans were eaten by tiger sharks, probably soon after the Outer Edge departed. ‘Tigers are very cautious sharks, ’he told the court. ‘They just circle and watch. They may do this for an hour before moving closer and may follow you for another hour before they take that first bite, and then you don't have a hope. ‘

But if the sharks did eat the Lonergans, how does this explain the discovery of their buoyancy vests, with no signs of blood, teeth marks or tearing, on the Cooktown beach?

Whatever the real explanation, the ‘left behind’ theory seems to have taken precedence at the inquest. Noel Nunan, the coroner, said he anticipated that counsel for the police and the Lonergans' families would seek the laying of ‘charges of manslaughter based on criminal negligence’. Whatever the outcome, speculation about what happened to the Lonergans is unlikely to fade away.


All the following is from State Headlines/Yahoo News -California Headlines Friday 28 August 1998

Teen Attacked By Shark Stable. . . - (WALNUT CREEK) - A 16 -year-old boy attacked by a great white shark at Stinson Beach is in stable condition at John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek. A hospital spokeswoman says the boy's injured muscles and tendons have been repaired. His mother told reporters that her son will probably boogie- board again once he has healed.

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[and]

. . . Surfers Not Intimidated By Shark - (STINSON BEACH) - After a shark attack at Stinson Beach, officials have banned swimming throughout a three-mile stretch. But surfers are not intimidated by the posted signs. . . or the shark. Yesterday, many surfers were out catching waves, and lifeguards say it is difficult to enforce the swimming ban. A marine specialist says that the 16 -year-old boy who was attacked was lucky that the shark swam away. . . because people on boogie-boards look very similar to seals, the shark's favourite food

California Headlines Thursday 27 August 1998 Teenager Recovering From Shark Attack - (NORTHBAY) - Sixteen-year-old Jonathan Kathrein remains hospitalised in fair condition. . . after a shark attacked him while he was boogey-boarding at Stinson Beach yesterday. Officials have banned swimming and surfing at the popular beach until further notice. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

California Headlines Thursday 27 August 1998 - (MARIN COUNTY) - A 16 -year-old boy is in hospital this morning after being attacked by a great white shark while boogie-boarding off Stinson Beach in Marin County. The boy was in five-feet of water with a group of other teens yesterday when the shark swam up from behind and bit him in the buttocks. Golden Gate National Recreation Area officials say the boy got away by poking his hands into the shark's gills. The victim was transported to hospital with lacerations. . . and is in serious condition. Park officials have closed the beach until further notice.

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[and]

. . . Sharks Spotted At Beach - (MARIN COUNTY) - According to marine officials, the section of Stinson Beach where a great white shark attacked a 16 -year-old boy is a prime feeding ground for sharks. They are attracted by the abundance of sea lions, which is their main food, along this stretch of Marin County coastline. A lifeguard on duty at the beach says there had been UN- confirmed reports of shark sightings before yesterday's attack. . . but lifeguards cannot close down the beach until there’s an incident. This is believed to be the first shark attack at Stinson Beach. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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Oregon Headlines Wednesday 26 August 1998 Sharks Cited On Oregon Coast - (SEASIDE) - Two recent reports of white sharks on the Oregon coast have prompted a warning that they may be hanging around. A surfer reported being chased by something about seven-feet long as he played in the ocean near Seaside and a fisherman reported catching a great white shark in a net near the California border. Oregon has had a dozen confirmed white shark attacks since 1976 and all occurred in August, Sept or Oct.

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Great white shark spotted in Adriatic; 29 August 1998 ROME (AP) Then a great white shark in the Adriatic Sea. Italy a vacationers' paradise is beginning to resemble a wild kingdom.

Beaches near Ancona on the Adriatic were deserted after the shark was spotted. Fisherman Stefano Catalani photographed the 18-foot-long animal as it attacked a smaller shark right next to his boat.

The dramatic video was shown on state television Friday night. On Saturday, red ‘no swimming’ flags were posted on Ancona's beaches, although blustery weather was mostly to blame.

The great white, spotted about 15 miles off the coast, is an extremely rare visitor to the Adriatic, wildlife officials told the ANSA news agency, and an animal of such size wasn't likely to come near the shore.


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Electronic Telegraph. Friday 25 Sept 1998

Sharks pursue swimmer across the Atlantic

TEN weeks ago Ben Lecomte proposed to his girlfriend in a written message on the base of his flipper and she said: ‘Yes’. He then waded into the sea and began a record-breaking 4,000-mile swim to cross the North Atlantic from the United States to France.

Lecomte set off from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in July and, after 72 days, pursuit by sharks and an ‘emotional block’ that led him on a500-mile diversion, he is due to arrive south of Port Maria, near Quiberon, north-west France, this afternoon.

During this final stage, 31-year-old Lecomte has had to cope with an arm injury and extreme fatigue. But it was the memory of his father, who died of cancer of the colon in 1991, that provided the inspiration for the challenge.

Lecomte, a naturalised American originally from France, raised more than £90,000 before he set off on July 16 . Of that total, he needs about half to pay the expenses of the trip. The proceeds will go to a British registered cancer charity, the Association for International Cancer Research. Earlier this week, Lecomte said that , although France was getting closer, he was ‘so tired’ and still had to wear two wetsuits because of the cold water.

Before leaving, he described how he had wanted to swim the Atlantic for some time but the final impetus came from his father's death. He has been training for eight years. He said: ‘I realised that my father’s death had left a space in my life. that was why I decided to raise funds for cancer research by using this project as the best vehicle. The charity was my choice because it can benefit cancer-sufferers worldwide. ‘

Lecomte, from Austin, Texas, has been swimming on the port side of his support vessel, a 39ft yacht, for six to eight hours each day.

The yacht is fitted with two ‘speakers’ at the bow and stern, which emit an electro-magnetic signal covering a radius of 25ft. They also act as a ‘force field’ to repel sharks. He has been rising at 6 am, burning 9,000 calories a day and swimming in two-hour stretches.

Lecomte swims an average of three to four miles an hour and, in the latest leg from the Azores, he has covered between 25 and 35 miles a day. In the beginning, he was swimming with the currents of the Gulf Stream and making up to 200 miles in a day. When he left, he planned to travel in a north-easterly arc to Brest. But Colleen Turner, the swimmer's spokesman, said Lecomte reached an ’emotional block’ in August. The spokesman said: ‘He had to get out of the water and so he swam 500 miles off his route to the Azores, about 1,000 miles west of Portugal. He stayed seven days to get his head together. Then he got back into the water. ‘For the last few weeks, the water has been extremely cold and he’s had to wear gloves, which he doesn't like because he can't feel his hands going through the water. It's pretty amazing really. He's been through a lot. At one point, he was followed by a great white shark. He didn't know exactly how big it was but he could see it moving back and forth about 30ft below him. All he could see were its head and tail. Lecomte said 'It's a lot bigger than I am' and that was 30 feet away. ‘

Miss Turner said: ‘It's a good job he did not try to swim inside a cage because, in the bad weather and rough seas, he probably would have been crushed by it. ‘

Derek Napier, chief executive of the charity, based in St Andrews, Fife, said: ‘We are delighted that Ben has chosen to support us. Ben has beaten the odds in being almost there already and we wish him the best of luck with his journey. ‘

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USA TODAY - Aug 14, 1998 New Jersey Ship Bottom - Lifeguard patrols have been added and bathers warned to stay within 5 feet of shore following reports of shark activity close to shore, an Official said. Brown sharks, 4 feet to 6 feet long, have been spotted near sand bars since Saturday,