Record of Investigation into Death
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Regulations 1996
I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, having investigated the death of
Bobby Ray SLACK
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
Find That :
(a) The identity of the deceased is Bobby Ray Slack ("Mr Slack") who died on or about 30 July 1975 near Fluted Cape, off Bruny Island in Tasmania.
(b) Mr Slack was born on 16 January 1938 and was aged 37 years at the time of his death.
(c) Mr Slack was a married man, whose occupation was as a professional abalone diver.
(d) I find that Mr Slack died as a result of traumatic injuries following a shark attack.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death :
At approximately 1.15 pm on 30 July 1975 Mr Slack was diving for abalone approximately 15 metres from the shore at Fluted Cape off Bruny Island. He was diving from his vessel "Shellfish" and his deckhand was Anthony Nigel Hitchens ("Mr Hitchens"). Mr Slack had been in the water for approximately one hour and had been diving on a "Hookah" device which pumped air from a compressor located on the boat via an air hose to Mr Slack. Mr Slack was wearing a black wetsuit with black flippers with the only contrasting colour being the yellow airline and chrome air regulator. At approximately 1.15 pm Mr Hitchens has observed thrashing in the water and has observed what he believed to be a shark fin. This has lasted for approximately five seconds. Mr Hitchens has then observed one of Mr Slackfs hand gloves floating in the water and has observed discolouration in the water which he believed to be blood. Mr Hitchens provided radio notification of what had occurred and then pulled up the diving hose which still had Mr Slackfs "backpack" attached. A short time later another abalone diver, Mr Kenneth Joseph Petith arrived at the scene and the two have searched the area with no success. The police vessel "Vigilant" then arrived and the search continued for the remainder of the day and the following day without success. Mr Petith returned the next day with members of the Tasmania Police Search and Rescue Unit to assist in the intensive search that was conducted of the area. Mr Petith found a net bag containing a number of abalone and returned the bag to the surface. Nothing else was located during a two hour underwater search. It was noted at this time that the area where Mr Slack was diving was only 2 or 3 kms north of a seal rookery on Cape Connella. Emergency Services conducted further searches from 4 August until 6 August with nothing further being located. The diving backpack used by Mr Slack was examined and shown to have a number of tears and serrated marks on the lead weights, rubber sheeting and aluminium fittings which were consistent with the bite of a large shark. It was also determined by these personnel that there was a seal colony in the Fluted Cape area.
This matter was treated as a missing persons file but there was follow up by Tasmania Police in April 2003. At that time police conducted checks with various financial institutions, State and Commonwealth Departments and interstate police services. There was no record of Mr Slack with any of these agencies. Leave was provided by an order of the Supreme Court of Tasmania on 30 October 1975 to swear to the death of Mr Slack for the purposes of the administration of his estate.
Comments and Recommendations :
I am satisfied that a thorough investigation has been conducted into the disappearance of Mr Slack and find that he died on 30 July 1975 as a result of being attacked by a shark whilst diving for abalone. This diving was taking place in the vicinity of seal colonies which would be likely to be a feeding area for sharks.
From the reports obtained from witnesses and police officers who attended the scene, the information given is consistent with Mr Slack being taken by a large shark. The eyewitness report from Mr Hitchens describes Mr Slack thrashing in the water and at the same time the appearance of a sharkfs fin. Examination of the recovered diving backpack and weight belt showed markings consistent with a shark bite.
Before I conclude I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family of Mr Slack.
Dated: The 29 day of September 2011 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania