TWO KILLED IN SHARK ATTACK OFF CORNISH COAST
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09:00 - 16 August 2007
A shark - possibly a Great White - killed people in the sea off Cornwall 50 years ago, the West Briton can reveal.Two men died and two others were badly injured in an incident which started with a shark attack, but ended in a bizarre and tragic twist of fate.
Four men in a dinghy off the Lizard saw a shark swimming towards them with a rope carrying two charges about to explode straddled across its back - and the story was related to the Coroner at a Falmouth inquest in August, 1956.
The officer in charge of naval operations involving the use of divers off Porthkerris Point said the charges exploded as the shark swam under the dinghy, killing two of its occupants, able seamen Leslie Nye, of Porthallow, and Richard Kirby, of Ashton.
Two others were seriously injured.
The West Briton reported on the tragedy in the following week's edition (see article right).
The inquest heard that on the day before the tragedy, Lieut Commander Joseph Brooks, in a fishing vessel, saw a shark approach which was a dangerous one, not of the common basking type.
Com Brooks, who had experience of sharks off America, saw this shark begin to swim towards the man on the surface.
As it made its run in, it turned on its side to get its mouth in a position to attack.
It was then frightened away by bubbles from one of the divers.
The following day, as two divers were putting on their gear, a shark started circling the fishing vessel.
The divers identified it as a "dangerous" shark and became anxious.
"In Brooks' mind was a strong feeling that the shark had nearly got one of his men the day before," said a witness.
Brooks and another navy man made two charges to straddle the shark and threw them at it.
It was a good shot and the line got around either its dorsal fin or its tail, with the two charges hanging either side with the fuses burning.
The boat started to turn away from the shark, but it made for the vessel. It was underneath when the two charges exploded.
All four were blown into the water as pieces of the boat flew into the air from the double explosion.
Two men died, while Com Brooks and another man were seriously injured and neither was able to attend the inquest.
The Coroner, Mr L J Carlyon, recorded a verdict of misadventure. No one retrieved any part of the shark, and whether it was a Great White or a harmless Porbeagle, a close relation, is unknown.
Matt Slater, curator at the Blue Reef Aquarium at Newquay and a shark expert, says he doubts that it was a Great White.
Some people around St Keverne can remember the incident.
Ronald Curnow said: "I was in school and we had never heard an explosion like it. It was so bad we all rushed out of the classroom and down to the beach. My father was an ambulance man and went to the beach, but he couldn't do anything for Leslie, who he knew.
"It was during the Cold War and the feeling around here was that they were testing top secret explosives and the shark story was used as a cover -up."
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