Shark attack kills diver off Mendocino coast

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by on August 17, 2004 at 03:29:50:

In Reply to: Auburn Man Missing: Possible Shark Attack posted by on August 16, 2004 at 12:22:00:

Shark attack kills diver off Mendocino coast
His companion says fish struck suddenly

Cliff Zimmerman was only three feet away from Randy Fry, his old friend and diving partner, when he heard a noise and felt the pressure of something big moving by.

It was a shark, and it came out of nowhere, it came fast, and it killed his partner.

"I heard a noise, like 'whoosh,' like a submarine, like a boat going by fast. It was a shark,'' Zimmerman said. "I knew it was a shark. It almost brushed me. I saw its dorsal fin. I don't know what kind it was; all I know is, it was big. Big. It was big enough to kill.''

The shark struck Fry, and suddenly, Zimmerman said, the water was filled with blood. "It was massive,'' Zimmerman said "I was yelling and yelling, but I knew from the amount of blood that it was fatal.

"He came in for the kill.''

It was over in an instant; no one saw the shark again, and no one saw Fry again. All this happened on Sunday afternoon, in water 15 feet to 20 feet deep, just 150 feet from the shore of a cove used by lumber schooners years ago, a place noted for abalone beds.

"It was terrible,'' Zimmerman said Monday, a day after the attack. "I almost had a heart attack myself. It could have been me.''

It was near Kibesillah Rock on the Mendocino coast just north of Fort Bragg. The sea was calm, and the weather was sunny and beautiful. Perfect for prying abalone off the rocks.

No one had ever seen a shark there before, and the Coast Guard said there had been no reports of shark attacks in that area. There have been 106 shark attacks on humans in the last 50 or so years on the California coast, 10 of them fatal, according to the Department of Fish and Game. The last fatal attack happened last year near Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County when a great white shark killed a college teacher out for a morning swim. But Avila Beach is more than 350 miles south of Fort Bragg.

"I never heard of a fatality on this coast,'' said Zimmerman, who lives in Fort Bragg. "A nibble, maybe, a nip, but never nothing like this. Never a full-bore attack.''

The Coast Guard searched until dark Sunday, and on Monday morning they found a body in the ocean nearby.

Though the Mendocino County coroner still has not made a formal identification, Zimmerman is sure it was Fry. "I was right there,'' he said, "I saw it.''

Jim Martin, another diver from the nearby town of Caspar, identified the body by the wetsuit it was wearing. Fry always wore a distinct wet suit; it had his name on it. Martin knew Fry well, he said.

Zimmerman said that Fry always had a hunch about a shark. "Randy and I talked about it many times,'' Zimmerman said, "He said, 'I think a shark will get me sometime.' " It's common banter among abalone divers.

Zimmerman and Fry were old friends and old diving partners. They dived together 30 years, and they swam side by side. They understood each other well and had taken precautions, Zimmerman said. They dived off a 28-foot fishing boat and had someone watching for anything in the water, like sharks. They also kept an eye out for seals and sea lions, which are often prey for sharks. They saw nothing.

They were free diving, using wet suits, masks, fins and snorkel but no air tanks.

Randall Fry was 50, and the ocean was his life. He loved fishing and diving. It was his hobby, his passion and his career. He was the western regional director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a group that organized fishing people and lobbied political bodies. He brought together recreational fishers and commercial fishermen, who in the past had been bitter enemies.

"Randy was really instrumental in organizing recreational anglers,'' said Sonke Mastrup, deputy director of the Wildlife and Inland Fisheries division of the state Department of Fish and Game.

"He was a uniter,'' said Bob Franko, president of the Coastside Fishing Club, based in El Granda in San Mateo County. "He loved fishing and he loved the ocean.

"He will surely be remembered,'' Franko said, "I don't know if he can ever be replaced.''

Fry lived in the Auburn area not far from Sacramento, but his friends said he traveled most of the time on behalf of his fishing interests.

"He loved the ocean so much,'' said Franko. "It was tragic and ironic he would go this way.''

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