Waihi Beach fatal shark attack: Victim’s family, friends grief-stricken, autopsy today

Police say a post mortem on a woman believed to have died in a shark attack in Waihi will be conducted today.

Emergency services rushed to Bowentown Beach just after 5pm yesterday. It is understood the woman was dragged from the water alive and paramedics administered CPR on the beach to no avail.

A stream of people have this morning been laying flowers at the scene and paying their respects.

Eastern Waikato Area Commander, Inspector Dean Anderson said in a statement today: “Police would like to acknowledge the young woman who died yesterday evening at Waihi Beach, and her family and friends at this very difficult time.

“We are not in a position to release her personal details but will do so in consultation with her family when appropriate.”

He said police were not able to confirm the cause of her death but indications are that she had been injured by a shark.

“A post mortem is scheduled to be carried out today and this will provide us with a clearer understanding of what happened.

“However, the Coroner will ultimately determine the cause of her death.

“We appreciate her death was extremely traumatic for those who were at Waihī Beach yesterday and we are offering Victim Support services to anyone who requires it.”

He acknowledged the emergency service responders who went to her aid including the Waihi Beach Surf Life Saving Club members, ambulance and a holidaying GP who provided medical aid, Fire and Emergency NZ, the Waihi Beach Coastguard and our own police staff.

He offered thanks and appreciation to local Iwi from the Otawhiwhi Marae for blessing the area with a karakia and for the compassion and care they showed for the victim and her friends.

Kelvin Whiting from Hamilton and his wife Karen, and his two children were among those leaving bunches of flowers down on the beach near where the young woman was brought to shore.

Whiting said they were staying at their holiday beach in Seaforth Rd.

“It’s so sad and tragic. My heart goes out to the young lady’s family. I still can’t believe it. We had a bach for 32 years and what has happened is so close to home. It’s just terribly sad.”

Local Graeme Rackham said: “It was a devastating for the young woman’s family and the community.”Another local man said the community was still reeling from the tragedy. “It’s pretty sad. It sort of makes you reflect on who you are and where we are.”

Beach open

The beach site of yesterday’s fatal shark attack will not be closed today.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand confirmed local council officials had made the decision.

But Otawhiwhi Marae have instated a rāhui spanning the North End of Waihi Beach down to Bowentown Heads and in harbour to Ongare, Tuapiro & Tanner Point. The rāhui prohibits the collection of shellfish and all fishing and will remain in place for a week from today (ending Jan 15 at 7am).

Maori warden and Otawhiwhi Marae Trust spokesperson Shaan Kingi said the rāhui was put in place this morning which was customary practice when there had been a water tragedy.

He said it this case it was deemed appropriate to keep the rāhui in place for seven days because there had been a lot of blood on the beach and in the water.

Kingi was the area where the young woman was attacked anddied was “very tapu” and extra time was needed to allow the blood to be cleared. He said he hoped people would respect the rahui which was in place out of respect for the young woman’s family and friends who gathered near the Waihi Beach Coastguard headquarters last night.

Kingi said more than 15 emergency service responders and police responded to the tragedy last night. They gathered together last night near the Coastguard building for karakia (prayers) with kaumatua from the marae to assist with the spiritual healing process.

SLNZ said observational patrols will take place at Bowentown today but flags will not be put out.

Flagged patrols will take place at nearby Waihi Beach and Island View, but these are weather-dependent.

Surrounding beaches will be patrolled as usual today.

From Saturday, all patrols will resume as per usual.

Tragic swim

Tadhg Stopford, of the company Tiger Drops, said yesterday he saw a helicopter land at the beach and people attempting CPR on the woman for several minutes.

“Vigorous CPR was being applied, and a troop of responders encircled the victim.”

He said after work on the victim had ceased, a man walked into the ocean.

“The man roused himself and marched 100m into the sea,” Stopford said.

“His entry into the sea was a challenge, I guess, to the shark who had stolen the life of his loved one. He defiantly waded deep into the sea, and stayed there for several minutes.

“With my children around me, I felt his loss.”

Shark expert: Great white sharks in the area

Shark scientist Riley Elliott says it’s hard to speculate what species of shark attacked the woman without all the facts.

However, there has been evidence of juvenile and immature great whites in the area as of last summer.

Elliott says bronze whalers are more common in the area than great whites but they haven’t attacked a human in a very long time.

“It’s very uncommon to have shark attacks in New Zealand – in the world in general, especially fatal ones,” he said.

“Shark attacks are incredibly rare and if you see one, remain calm, alert people around you, and calmly vacate the water.”

Elliott’s thoughts were also with the family and friends of the woman, describing her death as “tragic”.

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