A large shark killed a woman near her terrified husband and friends as they took their daily morning swim Thursday off a popular Australian east coast beach, police said.
Christine Armstrong, 63, was taken by the shark as she attempted to swim the 600 metres between the wharf and beach near the village of Tathra, 340 kilometres south of Sydney, police said.
The victim was some distance from the other five swimmers, including her husband, Rob Armstrong, when they saw a three to four metre shark nearby, said Police Inspector Jason Edmunds.
"The group joined up together and did their best to keep the shark at bay, although it didn't directly attack them," Edmunds told Nine Network television.
The swimmers did not see the attack, but a witness onshore did. Edmunds said the species of the shark was unknown.
The Tathra Wharf to Waves — a swim off a rocky coastline from the wharf to the beach and back again — is an annual event that attracts hundreds of swimmers each summer.
Trainer at local volunteer lifeguard club
Local council general manager Leanne Barnes said locals meet at the beach every morning to swim out to the wharf and back.
"It's a beautiful little coastal village and this is one of those sad things that can happen," Barnes said.
'Swimming brought her much joy and many friends.' - Statement from Armstrong's family
Armstrong's family said in a statement that she had been swimming at the beach for 14 years and had been a trainer at the local volunteer lifeguard club.
"Swimming brought her much joy and many friends," the statement said. "She will be sadly missed by all who loved her, especially by Rob, her husband of 44 years."
Police said a helicopter and boat were used to search for Armstrong's remains. The fruitless search was called off late Thursday afternoon.
Although sharks are common off Australia's coast, the country has averaged fewer than two fatal attacks per year in recent decades, but fatal attacks are becoming more common. Two men were killed in shark attacks off the east and west coasts in the space of a week in November last year. They were the only fatalities in 2013.
Police on Wednesday recovered remains of a 38-year-old man reported missing last week while diving south of the west coast city of Perth. Police said the remains had shark bites, but it was not clear whether the man had been bitten before or after he died.