Apr 4, 2014

Rob Armstrong spotted shark that took wife

Rob Armstrong spotted shark that took wife. RESCUE teams searching for the body of shark victim Christine Armstrong made a grisly find this morning.

The 63-year-old’s cap and goggles were located ‘with a quantity of organic matter’ after police divers joined the search at the southern end of Tathra Beach.

These remains have been identified as human and they will undergo forensic testing. The results are not expected to be known for several weeks.

Mrs Armstrong went missing yesterday morning while swimming with her regular group, including husband Rob, at Tathra Beach, just south of Bega

Today her husband Rob, who was swimming with the group paid tribute to his wife.

“Chris only knew one way in life and that was love,” he said.

“Everybody loved her.”

Mr Armstrong said he was doing it tough.

“Not good.,” he said went asked about how he was coping.

“We made a pact, Chris and I, many years ago that if either one of us went we would live on.

“(But) It’s going to be tough.”

For the past 14 years, the couple made the short trek down to the Tathra Surf Club for their daily swim.

As they swam past the breakers yesterday morning on the 600m journey to the Tathra Wharf, the pair took their last few strokes together before Mrs Armstrong made the fateful decision to return to shore alone.

At the 200m mark, the 63-year-old had told the group she was not feeling well.Mr Armstrong continued towards the wharf as part of his morning routine — he would never see his wife of 44 years again.

It was Mr Armstrong who spotted the shark — up to 4m long — lurking. As he made his way toward shore with the other swimmers they formed a huddle and kept a close watch for the shark.

Residents yesterday told The Daily Telegraph there was a resident great white shark that had been sighted near the wharf.

When Mr Armstrong could not locate his wife he started a frantic search — looking for her distinctive pink and orange cap.

At 8.40am police, ambulance and surf lifesavers were informed of a fatal shark attack — the second in NSW in less than five months.

An orange buoy was dropped on the spot where it was believed Mrs Armstrong had been attacked by the shark, likely to be either a great white or bronze whaler.

Late yesterday dye was dropped in the water to determine the currents as they continued searching for Mrs Armstrong’s body.

A witness has told police he saw Mrs Armstrong being attacked by the shark from nearby rocks but was too far away to help.

Inspector Jason Edmunds confirmed Mr Armstrong had seen a shark: “Rob was part of the group of five people. He did see a shape of a shark he described as three to four metres long and quite big.’’

As Mr Armstrong and other swimmers were treated for shock on the beach, the tight-knit town of Tathra, with a population of 1500, pulled together.

Mrs Armstrong, who helped run the surf club’s bronze medallion courses, was described as being “very loved by many people”.

“She has been swimming at Tathra Beach for 14 years and was an experienced and committed member of the surf club,” the club said.

“She was a senior surf club trainer for many years. Swimming brought her much joy and many friends.”

Her fellow clubbies from the Tathra, Narooma, Bermagui and Pambula surf clubs put aside their grief and jumped in five IRBs and two Jet Skis to search for the recently retired and popular member.

Far South Coast director of lifesaving Andrew Edmunds said club members were “extremely upset”.

He said Mrs Armstrong “was a capable, active lifesaver”.

“Our hearts go out to Christine’s family and friends and we are doing all we can to support club members at this time,” Mr Edmunds said.

Earlier this year Mrs Armstrong competed in the Wharf to Waves annual swimming competition and finished fourth in the 60 to 69 years age group.

Tathra Beach will remain closed today as the search resumes early this morning.

The Department of Primary Industries has appointed a shark biologist to assist investigators and attempt to identify what species of shark was responsible for the attack.

Mrs Armstrong is the 47th person to be killed by a shark in NSW waters in the past 100 years.


THE Tathra Wharf is one of the Sapphire Coast’s best-known landmarks — but recently, it has become known more for tragedy than its historical significance.

On November 18, 2008, Shane O’Neill leapt from the 5m-high jetty into the ocean after his four-year-old son Riley and 15-month-old son Travis fell from the wharf.

Mr O’Neill, 28, struggled to find his boys in the darkness and himself succumbed to the water.

He was declared dead at the scene and his sons were located and taken to Bega Hospital but sadly did not survive.

The tragedy shattered the small town but the wharf remains an important part of the community.

Every year, more than 400 people compete in the 1.2km Tathra Wharf to Waves ocean swim. Construction of the wharf dates back to 1860 and it serviced the local farming industry before being decommissioned as a coastal steamer wharf in the 1950s.

After that, a push to pull the wharf down was defeated by the Tathra Wharf Action Group and money was raised to restore part of it. In the 1990s, the wharf came to prominence after shocking photos of shark fishing appeared.


TATHRA lifeguards raised concerns about fishermen setting illegal baits and attracting big sharks close to the beach.

In 2012, Tathra Surf Life Saving Club surf boat captain Sharon Clarke expressed concern for a group of 20 swimmers — including Christine Armstrong — who swam 1.2km between the beach and the wharf every morning.

At the time, the surf club found a black balloon floating 150m off the beach, which was holding bait to lure in sharks.

“We all swim in the ocean knowing there are sharks, but you don’t like the idea that there are people luring and attracting sharks in so close,” Ms Clarke said at the time.

For decades, fishermen from across the country would come to Tathra wharf to catch great white sharks and bronze whalers hunting bait fish in the cool channels off the coast.

In 1996, after a push by locals, Bega Valley Shire Council banned shark fishing from the wharf and a sign was erected on the edge of the wharf. Off the wharf, fishermen would place a perimeter of bait settings between 600m to 1000m.

The Daily Telegraph has been told there is still some shark fishing but that it was smaller sharks being caught. A Department of Primary Industries spokeswoman said the fines for illegal shark fishing vary from $500 to $220,000 and possibly a two-year prison sentence if a threatened shark is caught.

Local oyster fisherman Brad Ellison said he did not think anyone fished for sharks from the wharf anymore after it was previously banned.