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Austrian killed in shark attack

Shocked eye witnesses who saw an Austrian tourist torn apart in a shark attack say the dead man and other tourists had ignored warnings not so swim, and some had even carried on swimming after he was killed.

Father of three Friedrich B., 66, who was a retired Austrian conservative (OeVP) politician from the region of Hofkirchen in Muehlkreis in Upper Austria on the border of Germany had travelled to South Africa because he wanted to visit the birthplace of Nelson Mandela. He was together with his wife Margit, 60, when their tour group made a stop at Second Beach in Port St John.

Described as active and fit despite retiring last year, he had been keen to get in some swimming once he and his tourism group had arrived at the spot. All the way along the beach signs had been set up warning people against going into the water, according to local woman Catherine Yazbek, who has a guesthouse by the beach and said many people including the Austrian man had ignored them.

She said: "I saw people running towards the beach and other people running out of the water shouting that the man had been attacked. There were a lot of people in the water as there always is over a long weekend although most had not gone that far out."

She said the man had been waist deep when he was attacked but because the local council was no longer paying for lifeguards the man's badly mauled body had remained floating in the water for half an hour before a rescue boat turned up to pull the body ashore. His wife could only watch from the shore as several sharks appeared to bite her husband's corpse.

Yazbek added: "It was the worst I have ever seen, it looked like there were a number of sharks that had attacked him and a large part of his body below the waist had gone. It definitely wasn't a one-off bite."

Local journalist Paddy Harper said the location was a breeding ground for bull sharks and that there were signs all over the place which had been ignored not only by the dead Austrian man but also by many other travellers and tourists.

Shark expert Wolfgang Fruehwirth from Sharkproject Austria, an organisation that works to protect marine ecosystems, said: "The chances of a human being bitten by a shark is probably about one in 4 million. The fact is that people don't really figure in the sharks food chain. There are probably between four and 11 fatal attacks a year. And in most cases those are simply because sharks don't see very well. If they see something and they don't know what it is then they take a test bite and when they realise it's a human they tend to simply let go and swim off. Unfortunately those bites can often be fatal. In this particular case it seems to have been a bull shark that is comfortable swimming in very shallow water and it has an extremely strong bite. Often victims of such attacks bleed to death before they can get help."

Yet incredibly, even when the man's body was still in the water, other swimmers had returned to the sea, apparently disregarding what had happened.

Another local, Michael Gatke, said: "It was incredible. People were there in the waist-deep water, swimming, while the body was still being taken out of the water."

The Austrian man is the eighth person to be killed at the beach in five years. The average fatality rate for shark attacks in South Africa is one in five but in Port St Johns, all but one shark attack has resulted in death since the spate started in January 2007. Worldwide, no single other state or country has notched up the same number of deadly shark attacks as Second Beach in the past decade.

Most of the attacks were blamed on Zambezi or bull sharks, also known as the "pitbulls of the ocean" for their habit of biting and shaking a victim, causing catastrophic injuries.

The last person to fall victim was Fundile Nodumla, 39, from nearby Mthatha, in March last year. He fought off the shark and was pulled out of the water by passers-by with injuries to both arms, his chest and stomach.

The previous victim, Liya Sibili, 22, died on Christmas Day 2012 after being taken by a shark in waist-deep water. Only his bathing trunks were recovered despite a three-day search for his body.

Yazbek said locals were now considering leafleting visitors to warn them about the dangers.

"They don't call this the Wild Coast for nothing," she said. "People must admire the beach but find other things to do rather than swim."

Local Mayor Martin Raab in Friedrich Burgstaller' hometown said: "We got the news with a text message and we hoped that it might have been a mistake. Only two weeks ago he was delighted about telling everyone how he was going to the home of Nelson Mandela. He was a lively and active member of the community here and will be greatly missed. He was a keen sailor and was often by the sea in various places."

He leaves behind his wife and three adult children – two daughters and a son as well as three nephews. One of his daughters who lives in New York where the dead man and his wife had frequently visited her.

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