Blood pooled around Adam Strange as he was repeatedly dragged underwater by a massive shark, unable to make it to the safety of a nearby rock.
Fishermen called desperately to Mr Strange, a documentary maker in his forties and regular swimmer at popular Muriwai Beach north of Auckland, where he was attacked and killed yesterday afternoon by what is believed to be a 4m great white.
"All of a sudden, we saw the shark fin and next minute, boom, attack him and then blood every where on the water," said witness Pio Mose, who was fishing on a rock near Maori Bay, just around a point from Muriwai Beach, around 1.30pm yesterday when the attack happened.
Mr Mose immediately dialled 111 and a friend ran to Muriwai to get lifeguards as they called to the dying Mr Strange.
"He was still alive, he put his head up, we called him to swim over [to] the rock to where we were. He raised his hand up, and then while he was rising his hand up we saw another attack pull him in the water."
Mr Strange surfaced once more before Mr Mose realised he was dead.
Witnesses said up to four other sharks also swept in on Mr Strange as blood spread through the water.
Armed police responded in a helicopter and an inflatable surf lifesaving boat, firing into the ocean to drive the sharks off so lifeguards could recover his body. It is not known if any sharks were killed.
Inspector Shawn Rutene said Mr Strange had been swimming from Maori Bay to Muriwai Beach, 200 metres from shore.
A friend of the family said he was training for an upcoming Ocean Swim.
His family is heavily involved with the surf lifesaving club in Muriwai, and he was very familiar with the waters.
Last night they released a statement saying: "The family are grieving the loss of a glorious and great father, husband and friend."
An award-winning director, Mr Strange had a background in painting, photography and graphic design.
He won a Crystal Bear with his first short film Aphrodite's Farm at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009.
The family friend said: "He surfs the beach every day, he loves the ocean."
Wellington student Stef McCallum, 18, said there were about 200 people on the main beach during the attack, including two parties of school children. Panic broke out as word of the attack spread.
"Everybody was evacuated from the water. Word of mouth, ‘shark', and everybody left the water."
Mr Rutene said it took police and Muriwai lifeguards about 30 minutes to recover the body as sharks circled.
He said they did not know if they hit either shark, but they "rolled off and disappeared"
Ms McCallum saw a police officer go out in a surf boat and shoot at sharks.
"He fired about 20 shots."
Another witness said: "I could see the IRB [rescue boat] circling the shark while those on board were shooting at it. There would have been three or four shots and the water was running with blood. From where I was I figured it was a pretty big shark."
Mr Rutene said Mr Strange's family were distraught.
Muriwai Surf Lifesaving chairman Tim Jago said the lifeguards who responded were shocked at the size of the shark. "No one had seen anything this big out here ever."
Surfer Bourne Nobel Buiski said there had been a "massive" shark spotted near surfers on Monday at Piha beach.
ATTACK 'TYPICAL OF A GREAT WHITE'
There's no doubt the killer shark was a great white, Department of Conservation shark expert Clinton Duffy says.
"The circumstances are pretty typical of a great white shark attack.
"The fact it hung around, it was not a typical slash-and-run attack you get where someone gets their foot or hand bitten."
If a smaller species of shark bit something bigger than itself, it would typically flee, he said.
Witnesses suggested there was more than one shark involved, and Mr Duffy said it was not uncommon for two great whites to be close together.
Great whites are common on the west coast of the North Island. "They can be seen almost anywhere, but are easier to find in southern New Zealand, where they concentrate around seal colonies."
On average, there are two shark attacks every year in New Zealand.
Since 1837, only 15 have been fatal, and great whites have been responsible for at least 11 of them.
The last confirmed shark death was in 1976, in Te Kaha, Bay of Plenty, when spearfisherman John Leith was attacked by what was thought to be a bronze whaler.
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