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Friends of carpenter and leather craftsman Tim van Heerden looked on in horror when he was ripped off his surfboard and attacked by a shark at the popular Plettenberg Bay surf spot off Lookout Rocks yesterday.
“The sea turned red around him within seconds,” said Van Heerden’s close friend Tim Clarke, who witnessed the attack shortly after 9am from the Lookout viewpoint above the surf spot.
Van Heerden, 49, also known as “Tim Boots” in his Plettenberg Bay home town for the handcrafted leather moccasins he produced, died of his injuries and massive blood loss at the Plettenberg Bay Medi-Clinic. The shark bit his left leg twice, high up on the thigh and in the groin area before letting go and swimming away.
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) has since advised bathers and surfers to temporarily abstain from entering the sea in the Plettenberg Bay area.
“He was lying on the board paddling back to the surf after a ride when I heard him scream as the shark hit him the first time and pulled him off the board. Tim was trying to climb back on when the shark came around and hit him again. I only saw the fin. Tim disappeared under the water for a moment and, when he came up a few seconds later, the sea around him turned red,” Clarke said.
Eighteen-year-old Plettenberg local Cameron Payne was with Van Heerden and four other surfers when the shark attacked.
“I was about 20 metres away from Tim. I was just lining up a wave when I heard one of the two Australian guys surfing with us shout ‘shark!’.
“I looked across and saw the shark’s tail thrashing as it churned up the water around him. There was a lot of blood,” Payne said.
Charlie Reitz, a friend of Van Heerden’s for about 20 years, also witnessed the attack and swam out to pull the severely injured surfer from the water as he drifted, still clinging to his surfboard, into the Keurbooms River mouth in front of Lookout Deck restaurant.
“He was in really bad shape when I reached him. I think he had already bled out. He was not focusing and his eyes were glazed over,” a shocked Reitz said.
Surfer Lloyd Chapman also witnessed the attack from the Lookout viewpoint.
“From the amount of blood, it was evident that the main femoral artery was severed. It looked like the femur was also broken.”
Reitz was joined in the water by Payne, and together the two surfers pulled Van Heerden on to his surfboard and steered him back to the rocks below Lookout Deck.
“I didn’t want to look at the wound, but it was really bad,” Payne said.
None of the witnesses were able to positively identify the type of shark which attacked Van Heerden, but Reitz said it was “fair-sized, maybe three metres. It looked like it could have been a (great) white”.
Plettenberg Bay is known for the great whites found in the waters around the Robberg peninsula marine protected area (MPA), where they prey on a large seal colony.
Payne said a whale breached not far from the six surfers minutes before the attack.
“We got a bit of a fright when we saw the large black shape of the whale and there was some banter from the guys about looking out for sharks,” Payne said.
Laurent Eray, brother of champion surf ski paddler Michelle Eray, was the first NSRI volunteer on the scene.
He had been working nearby when frantic phone calls from the surfers alerted the NSRI to the tragedy.
Payne said Eray was waiting for them with a first aid box when they got Van Heerden to shore.
“The NSRI guys were fantastic. He immediately started working on stopping the blood loss. We tried to help until the other NSRI guys got there about four minutes later.”
NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon said Van Heerden was not conscious when volunteers and emergency service personnel arrived at the scene shortly after 9am.
He said Van Heerden’s heartbeat failed and was restored a number of times as the rescue workers struggled to keep him alive.
“The 49-year-old man was on the rocks after being brought out by fellow surfers. Extensive resuscitation efforts commenced at the scene, in the ambulance and at the hospital, but he was declared dead by doctors.”
Lambinon said the NSRI was in contact with Van Heerden’s father Nick, 70, who was a horse racing stipendiary steward in Port Elizabeth for many years before relocating to Bloemfontein.
NSRI Plettenberg Bay deputy station commander, Deon Truter said it was strongly suspected that the shark was a great white.
An investigation to confirm this would be conducted by the Shark Working Group, Lambinon said.
Truter said they had advised bathers against entering the sea at this point.
“This is only an advisory and does not carry a time limit as it will be up to individuals to assess their own decision to enter the sea,” he said, adding that the last such incident to occur in Plettenberg Bay was 13 years ago.
That incident was not fatal.
Meanwhile, Van Heerden’s friends said he was an avid surfer who recently returned from the Seychelles, where he had performed contract work as a carpenter, building holiday lodges.
In a poignant favourite quote on Van Heerden’s Facebook page, he said: “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take …”
Van Heerden is survived by 17-year-old son Jethro, whose mother Michelle Marx, said the deceased man was loved by his friends.
“Surfing was his life. That’s how he wanted to live and that’s how he wanted to die,” Marx said, crying. - Garden Route Media