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Friday, April 4, 2014

Christine Armstrong, Tathra shark victim





Rob and Christine Armstrong were married for 44 years and 63 year old Christine was a life saver at the Tathra Surf Club.  She was a strong ocean swimmer and competed every year in the 1.2 kilometre 'Wharf to Waves' race.  Every morning, she and husband Rob would join a group of friends to swim from the beach to Tathra's historic wharf and back. Earlier this year, Mrs Armstrong finished fourth in the 60 to 69 year age group.



Tathra wharf



Yesterday morning, at the 200 metre mark, Mrs Armstrong told the group she wasn't feeling well and decided to turn back.  The rest of the group carried on.  On their way back to the beach, they saw a three metre shark and huddled together in the water for protection. That's when Mr Armstrong realized his wife was missing.




Tathra is a small seaside town of 1,600 people near the Victorian border and this incident is the first reported shark attack in the area. Shark expert Dr Chris Neff from Sydney University said "It struck me as surprising, Tathra certainly doesn't have a history of shark attacks on the database."





But there's trouble brewing.  For years, fishermen would come from all over the country to catch sharks from Tathra wharf and although it was banned in 1996, lifeguards say that fishermen are still setting illegal baits that have brought big sharks in close to the beach.

Tathra surfboat captain captain Sharon Clarke said they found a black balloon bait floating 150 metres off the beach during the race in 2012.  "We all swim in the ocean knowing there are sharks but we don't like the idea that there are people luring and attracting them in so close" she said.

Fines for illegal shark fishing range from $500 to $220,000 and possible jail time if a threatened shark is caught.





Tony Rettke is a close friend of the Armstrongs.  "I normally swim with them, I didn't today....but my wife did....it's not a sharky area, they set balloons probably half a kilometre out in the open sea...but it's not like there are sharks at the wharf" he said.

So it comes back to the same old argument.  Who is at fault, the shark or the swimmer?

The search for Mrs Armstrong's body resumed this morning.