Search for Tathra shark attack victim called off

ROLLING COVERAGE: How Thursday unfolded

Tathra shark attack 'a tragedy waiting to happen'

Tathra shark fishing an ongoing concern

5.30PM: Police have called off the search for the remains of Christine Armstrong, following an extensive two-day operation at Tathra Beach.

Volunteers and emergency personnel have scoured the land and sea looking for a trace of Mrs Armstrong, who was taken by a shark during her morning swim on Thursday.

About midday Friday NSW Police Divers made an extensive search of the area where Mrs Armstrong was last seen without success. No further evidence has been located.

Following a meeting between Police, Department of Primary Industries, Bega Valley Shire Council and Surf Life Saving NSW a decision was reached that Tathra Beach remain closed to the public overnight.

Patrols of Tathra Beach and surrounds will commence about 8am on Saturday, with the Westpac helicopter also being utilised to patrol beaches from Moruya to Eden on both Saturday and Sunday, prior to Tathra Beach being reopened at 10am. This decision is supported by the Armstrong family and the Tathra Surf Life Saving community.

The Department of Primary Industries has indicated that current environmental conditions are conducive to bringing large schools of baitfish near the shore, which could mean that sharks will also be attracted to the area. If people do see large sharks near shore please notify Surf Life Saving Guards immediately.

4.35PM: Supporting the family and community during this time of tragedy is the immediate focus of the Bega Valley Shire Council says general manager Leanne Barnes.

Ms Barnes said many staff and councillors knew and were close with Christine and Rob Armstrong and the council was making available counselling through its HR section.

“It’s an absolute tragedy,” Ms Barnes said.

“Our thoughts are with the family and the community.”

Ms Barnes said the public ordinance against fishing for sharks at Tathra Wharf still stands, but “with our limited resources it is extremely hard to police”.

“There are issues other than fishing here – we have warm water at the moment and there are bait fish around.

“We will listen to experts and be guided by our staff as to council’s responsibilities, and NSW Fisheries have responsibilities here as well.

“It will be looked at in due time, but is not our focus at the moment.

“From our perspective our focus is now about supporting the family and community, and as you know we are one big community.”

2.55PM: The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is helping NSW Police in responding to the suspected shark attack at Tathra Beach.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim at this tragic time,” a DPI spokesperson said.

“The DPI has initiated its Shark Incident Response Plan and is assisting the police with their investigations.

“A shark biologist from DPI will study all key information to assist in identification of the shark.”

While the species of shark was not yet confirmed by the DPI, witnesses said it could have been a bronze whaler.

The DPI spokesperson said many species of shark use inshore coastal waters as well as off the continental shelf.

“At this time of year, when water temperatures are warm, bait fish are often abundant in close to shore and as a result, sharks may be more frequently seen in these areas,” the spokesperson said.

Fisheries officers have been on site at Tathra Beach working alongside police.

“DPI will continue to work with NSW Police to determine what action should be taken, if any, to minimise any ongoing risk."

1.02PM: The husband of Christine Armstrong has spoken publicly for the first time since she was killed by a shark swimming at Tathra beach on Thursday morning, assuring friends she died quickly and doing something that she loved.

Rob Armstrong said his wife of 44 years was in an "extremely happy" state after returning from a trip to New Zealand. Click here for the full story.

12.56PM: The tragic death of Christine Armstrong, who was taken by a shark as she swam between Tathra Beach and Tathra Wharf on Thursday, will affect Surf Life Saving Clubs around Australia,  according to Pambula Surf Life Saving Club president Don Hay. Full story here.

11.15AM: The search for Christine Armstrong's remains is now focussing on the southern end of Tathra Beach. Police divers have also joined the search.

Her cap and goggles were found late Thursday with a quantity of organic matter.

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

10.20AM: Police "hold out no hope" they will find Christine Armstrong alive, confirming they found evidence to convince them the 63-year-old Tathra resident had been killed by a shark.

Police have confirmed that searchers found a swimming cap and goggles late on Thursday afternoon which Ms Armstrong's husband confirmed were hers.

They also found a small amount of human remains, which police spokesman Inspector Jason Edmunds declined to elaborate on.

"It was forensically tested by medical personnel yesterday afternoon to determine that it was human in nature," he said.

"That only adds further evidence that Christine was taken by a shark."

The search is continuing for any more remains, but Inspector Edmunds said they were not searching for the shark.

He said Ms Armstrong's husband of 44 years, Rob, was "holding up" following the attack.

"Christine's husband was on the water ... [he] saw the shark. He was more willing to accept what happened, or more adjusted to 'this is what's happened' than the police were," Inspector Edmunds said.

Police officers have briefed about a dozen or more volunteers, many of whom hit the water about 8.40am Friday.

Two surf club boats have been deployed with a driver and two people in each who lean over the sides with masks and snorkels to look or any signs of Ms Armstrong or the shark, with another half a dozen volunteers scouring the rocks.

Crews will switch over intermittently.

Police divers are expected to join the search.

One surf club volunteer said the rainy, overcast conditions reduced visibility, but the calm conditions meant they should still be able to see.

8.50AM: The search for missing swimmer Christine Armstrong has just begun.

Mrs Armstrong is believed to have been taken by a shark while on her morning swim at Tathra Thursday.

Police have briefed more than a dozen volunteers, many of whom have just hit the water.

Two surf club boats have been deployed with a driver and two people. The observers will lean over the sides with masks and snorkels to look for any signs of Mrs Armstrong, with another half dozen volunteers scouring the rocks.

Crews will switch over intermittently to avoid the risk of hypothermia in cold, wet conditions.

Police divers are expected to join the search in the late morning.

7.40AM: Surf lifesavers say wet weather won't stop them taking to the sea in the search for one of their own, believed to have been taken by a shark at Tathra.

Christine Armstrong, 63, disappeared on her morning beach to wharf swim on Thursday morning.

Far South Coast Surf Life Saving Association duty officer Andrew Edmunds said, while the wet weather would reduce visibility, sea conditions were still flat.

"We have a briefing with Water Police just after 8am and then we plan to be back on the water," he said.

"We will have to rotate the crews because, when it's cold and wet, hypothermia is always a risk."

Surf lifesavers began land searches at daybreak, combing the beaches for any sign of their missing colleague.

6.20AM: The search for a missing Tathra woman believed taken by a shark is expected to resume at first light.

The search for missing swimmer Christine Armstrong was called off Thursday afternoon due to poor visibility.

It's likely the search will recommence at first light Friday for the 63-year-old surf club member, believed to have been the victim of a shark attack Thursday morning.

Tathra SLSC search crews have been assisted by lifesavers from Narooma, Bermagui and Pambula. Club members are understandably distressed and the local community is in shock at yesterday's events.

Far South Coast Director of Lifesaving, Andrew Edmunds, said club members were extremely upset and that the victim was a capable, active surf 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.

The police and Surf Life Saving NSW are reminding people to remain clear of the beach and water area around Tathra until further notice.

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