'I love you guys ...': shark attack victim's last words

ALEXANDRA SMITH AND MANUEL MITTERNACHT
Last updated 16:05 01/12/2013
Shark attack
Frank Redward

Family and friends of the surfer gather on Campbells Beach after the teenager died from a shark attack.

Zac Young
Facebook
Zac Young, 19, was surfing with three friends when he was bitten on the legs by a shark.

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Grief-stricken teenagers have spoken of the moment their friend Zac Young was attacked by a tiger shark off Australia's coast, as hundreds of mourners gathered to pay tribute to the young surfer in his church and on the water.

Zac's father Kevin Young addressed a memorial service at Grace Church in Port Macquarie, NSW, on Sunday morning, paying tribute to his son who loved the ocean and revealing he had told his friends as they tried to save him: "I love you guys, I love you."

The Port Macquarie teen was surfing with three friends about 100 metres off shore at Riecks Point, at a break known as The Well, north of Coffs Harbour, at about 2pm on Saturday when he was mauled by what is believed to be a tiger shark.

Friend Lindsy Isaac, 14, who was surfing with Zac, said they paddled for 15 minutes to get Zac back to shore.

"It was the scariest thing I've ever been through," the devastated teenager said in Port Macquarie on Sunday. "I can't believe he's gone."

Lindsy said he believed an eight-foot tiger shark had attacked his friend, and the knowledge that it could have still been circling below as they tried to get out of the area was terrifying.

When asked if he would get back into the water, he said: "Yep. That's what he would have wanted."

After the service, up to 400 surfers and bodyboarders gathered on Town Beach, in Port Macquarie, where they joined in prayer.

They then paddled out into the ocean, where they held a minute's silence.

Thousands of people have also visited a Facebook tribute page set up in memory of the surfer, where friends have praised him as a "positive happy person who lived life to the fullest" and someone who was "always looking out for others".

Beaches around Coffs Harbour remain closed on Sunday morning as authorities scour the coast for the shark.

It was Zac's first surfing road trip with his mates after getting his driver's licence but the adventure ended in tragedy for the talented board rider who was killed by a shark as his friends watched on in horror.

The 19-year-old from Port Macquarie was surfing with three friends when he was severely bitten on the legs by a shark.

''His mates struggled with the shark for a short time, then the shark let go and his friends courageously managed to get him to shore,''  Coffs Harbour police inspector Joanne Reid told reporters at the scene.

Water police, Marine Rescue and Surf Life Saving volunteers are now searching for the shark which attacked the young surfer. Beaches from Sawtell to Woolgoolga remain closed on Sunday.

Zac's friends struggled to come to terms with his death on Saturday.

Jim Rutherford, former president of the Port Macquarie Bodyboarding Association, where Zac was a member, described the teenager as ''the nicest kid you would ever meet''.

''He was a really good-hearted kid ...  he was always trying to help people and, over the years, I gave him so many awards for sportsmanship as well as for being a talented bodyboarder,'' Mr Rutherford said, adding that Zac had been surfing all his life and was dedicated to his beloved sport.

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Zac's second last post on his Facebook page was a call-out to his mates to join him for a surf. Late on Saturday, his friends were commenting on that post, leaving behind messages of tribute and friendship. A Facebook page, In Memory of Zac, had thousands of ''likes''.

''Miss you Zac. You made the world a better place. Your presence lit up the room when you entered. Your smile made a difference, and your words were uplifting,'' one wrote.

''Love you brother. I know you're surfing the sickest barrels in Heaven right now,'' another wrote.

Zac was a committed Christian, who was ''fun loving'' and well-known in the community, his devastated employer at the Youth for Christ organisation, Daryl Carter, said on Saturday.

Zac was an intern with the group, an evangelical movement that works with schools and homeless youth.

''When he came into the room, he was full of life,'' Mr Carter, the Port Macquarie regional director, said.

''The other young leaders are devastated and shocked by it. It will have a very big impact,'' he said.

Carter learnt of the attack by social media, then received a phone call, and was providing support to Zac's friends on Saturday.

Kylee Kay, president of the Port Macquarie Bodyboarding Association, was in shock when she heard the news.

''He was travelling with Kurt,  Shayden and another local boy from Port Macquarie, all good mates and great surfers from Port Macquarie,'' she said.

''We are all walking around gobsmacked. Zac was a great guy and a confident surfer. He was very focused to get his life together and an inspiration for us all. The whole community is sending our condolences to his family and friends.''

She said hundreds of surfers had travelled to that area of Coffs Harbour only weeks ago for the national bodyboarding championships.

The teen was considering a career as a news photographer, and had done work experience for the Port Macquarie News, published by Fairfax Media.

Surf Life Saving NSW immediately closed the beaches around Riecks Point, and water police were patrolling the area late on Saturday.

Kevin Clancey, from Surf Life Saving's North Coast branch, said the beaches would remain off limits while police continued investigations, and lifeguards were warning Coffs Harbour hotels not to allow guests to go down to the beaches.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Primary Industries said it initiated a shark incident response plan. She said a shark biologist would travel to the scene and study the attack pattern to identify the species of shark.

''DPI will work with NSW Police to determine what action should be taken to minimise any ongoing risk,'' she said.

The attack follows a fatal shark attack in Western Australia last weekend but is the first fatal attack in NSW since 2008, when a 16-year-old bodyboarder was killed by a shark at North Wall, near Ballina.

Coffs Harbour Council lifeguard team leader Greg Hackfath told ABC News the reef was a popular spot for bodyboarders but shark attacks are rare in the area.

''I can only recall, in the 35 years I've been here, of two shark attacks; both of those were only little,'' he said. ''It's very, very unusual. We don't know details of what type of shark it is yet, but it could be a rogue shark that has just been travelling through the area.''

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett last week raised the prospect of a cull of sharks lingering near the south-west coast.

He said: ''I don't know if it's a cull as such - and maybe that means different things to different people - but I certainly acknowledge that the public is demanding that sharks, where they stay around popular swimming or surfing areas, should be destroyed. I'm in that camp.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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