A school teacher is presumed dead after he was attacked by a shark while surfing on Saturday, according to authorities, who’ve found fragments of a wetsuit and the suspected remains of his surfboard.
Emergency services were called to reports of a shark attack at Walkers Rock Beach, on the west coast of South Australia, on Saturday, South Australia police said in a statement.
Authorities have not identified the 46-year-old man, but the Elliston Area School nearby has confirmed it was Simon Baccanello, a mathematics, science and PE teacher from the school, known affectionately as Mr B among students.
“Students today have remembered Mr B as a true gentleman, an enthusiastic mentor and a kind, thoughtful soul who was always so giving of his time for others,” the school said on its website.
“This is a tragic loss of a quality educator, valued colleague and a remarkable man who was a true friend to everyone,” it added, also describing Baccanello as an “avid surfer and keen fisherman.”
Police said in a statement Monday that they had recovered “two items of interests in relation to the search for a missing surfer, presumed dead after a shark attack.”
One of them appears to be a piece of wetsuit material, while the other item is believed to be some small pieces of white polystyrene possibly from the surfboard, said police, who are sending the items to be forensically analyzed.
Trevlyn Smith, a unit manager from SES, previously told CNN affiliate 9 News that the remains of the surfboard they retrieved showed “one bite mark.”
After consulting with Baccanello’s family, emergency services said they would continue to search the area and surrounding beaches in the coming days after high tide.
His family issued a statement saying his death was a “tragic loss,” according to 9 News.
Baccanello started his stint at the Elliston Area School in January, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“He had a real keenness with his students to make them feel good to build those relationships with the students,” the school’s principal Chad Fleming told 9 News.
Pulteney Grammar School – where Baccanello taught in Adelaide between 2007 and 2009, and then 2022 – also issued a statement on Facebook.
“He is well remembered by the school community as a fine teacher, a generous friend and a genuine, authentic human being,” the statement said.
Shark attacks are relatively rare off South Australia – according to the Australian Shark Incident Database, there were 20 shark encounters in 2022, resulting in 14 injuries and one death.
South Australia only contributed one case that did not involve any injury.
In February earlier this year, a 16-year-old girl was killed by a shark while swimming in a river in Perth, Western Australia.