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Headless body of shark attack victim found

Associated Press

UKIAH, Calif. - The Coast Guard has recovered the headless body of a diver who was killed by a shark off the Mendocino County coast.

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Randy Fry, 50, was attacked Sunday afternoon in shallow water near Westport while diving for abalone with a companion. Fry's body was recovered Monday; the companion escaped injury.

A friend of Fry's estimated the shark was between 16 to 18 feet long. "It was over in five seconds," said Red Bartley, who witnessed the fatal encounter from a boat. It was the state's first shark fatality since August a year ago.
 

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Fishermen Lose a Friend

by Jim Martin

My good friend Randy Fry, aged 50, died on Sunday, August 15th, in the middle of the afternoon, on a gloriously warm day out on the Pacific Ocean. He was killed by a great white shark in fifteen feet of water while diving for abalone.

Randy was the most important spokesman for recreational fishing on the West Coast.

His death is so tragic and bizarre that it has riveted the west coast fishing community's attention. When it comes to something like this, it lands hard on anyone who steps foot in saltwater. Whether you are a recreational diver, a sportfishing angler, a commercial fisherman, or just a person who likes to look out at the ocean while walking the beach.

Randy Fry grew up in the Fresno area and his dad, now deceased, was an insurance salesman. His mother lives in Auburn. He leaves a sister and an ex-wife, a grown son and Natalie, his girlfriend he wanted to marry.

Randy took the bull by the horns and started getting people organized to fight fishing closures. He seemed to know everybody, and if he didn't know them personally, he was buddies with someone who did. He was a former scuba diver instructor, led diving charters in the Philippines, and became an avid, free-diving spearfisherman who competed in club competitions. He had been fishing up here in Mendocino County, in Albion and Fort Bragg, for thirty years. Fry was employed by the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a non-profit, grass roots political lobby for saltwater sportfishermen and the recreational fishing industry. This was our most important voice representing non-commercial anglers and divers on the West Coast.

This cuts our throats.

In 2003 Fry was appointed to a federal fishery management panel on groundfish, including important species to the recreational nearshore fishery. Randy was instrumental in the appointment of Darrell Ticehurst to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC), the august body that sets most saltwater fishing regulations.

Cliff Zimmerman, a Fort Bragg resident, met Randy when they were both living in Sacramento in the 1970s. Cliff introduced Randy to Mendocino fishing and Randy caught the bug.

Cliff Zimmerman owns the Beach House Inn and is well known in Fort Bragg as a surveyor. He was diving with Randy Fry when Randy died.

These guys were not inexperienced divers. Cliff had a plan for what to do if somebody got bit. Here's what happened, as best I know it:

Randy Fry was in town for the Fish Fry in Noyo Harbor for the Recreational Fishing Alliance. We organized this event to raise money and join new members for RFA. We had a great time, and signed up a bunch of new members. We put faces to names. Many RFA-NorCal board members were there: Red Bartley, myself, Randy Fry, Bob Humphrey, Steve Campi, Dave Whittington; all my local fishing buddies were there and working the event. We had a blast and put a bean in the pot.

On Sunday I found Randy Fry, Cliff Zimmerman and Red Bartley at Carine's around noon. Red is the president of the California Striped Bass Association and a board member of RFA's NorCal Chapter. These guys were my people. We had lunch, and everybody wanted to fish but I felt obligated to clean up. My friend Alex Hamann was there and considered going diving with them but had to get back to Oakland. The last time I saw Randy, he was shaking Alex's hand and thanking him for helping out so much with the Fish Fry. "I really mean it," Randy said, and he left.

Randy and Red joined Cliff the DOLPHIN, Cliff's 28 foot Uniflite sportfishing boat, and they decided to troll for salmon up by Ten Mile Beach, in close. They continued to troll north and caught nothing but lingcod, which they released. Once they reached the Kibesillah area Cliff and Randy decided to pop some abalone. It was Randy's first abalone diving trip of the year, to the best of my recollection.

They had been in the water ten or fifteen minutes and were about 150 feet from the boat. Red Bartley was in the boat angling for rockfish. Before they dove, the whole crew talked about the possibility of sharks. Red Bartley was concerned about sharks in the area and Randy and Cliff asked him to watch out for any sign. Seals suddenly beaching themselves; fins above water. Red agreed to be a lookout.

They were diving in fifteen feet of water or so. They had been in the water for about fifteen minutes. They chatted while hanging on to their diving tubes, and Randy told Cliff to adjust his mask to get the fogging out. Cliff turned away from Randy and was looking down to prepare for his next dive when a big shark passed by Cliff and hit Randy with a clean blow. Randy just had started a dive and was underwater. He was dead instantly and never came to the surface. Cliff estimated that the shark was as big as his pickup truck, and he got a pretty good look at it.

When Cliff saw the shark, and then the pool of blood in the water, he screamed out, "Holy ****! Shark!" He dropped his weight belt and swam furiously back to his boat. Red grabbed him and pulled him into the boat. They looked around all over for Randy, but he was nowhere to be seen. They called in a "Mayday" on the VHF radio, and an angler in a small aluminum skiff came in and started patrolling the scene, looking for Randy. The DOLPHIN was anchored up but Cliff was ready to lose the anchor as soon as they saw Randy.

Cliff and Randy were always playing tricks on each other, and Clip was hoping this was a good one. Maybe Randy brought a red dye bag and popped it, then swam off underwater. Maybe a seal was hit by the shark and Randy was able to get out of the area. The whole thing is so unbelievable, your mind races to find an explanation.

The Coast Guard cutter arrived on the scene, along with their helicopter. They searched the area to no avail. After about two hours, they returned to port. The truth had finally sunk in.

I just can't get my mind around the fact that Randy Fry is dead.

I was working down in the harbor at 5pm, cleaning up after the Fish Fry, when Don Akin and Kevin Browning came over and said there was a missing diver up by Orca Inn. My heart went up in my throat because I knew Randy and Cliff Zimmerman liked to dive there.

I started driving up to Orca Inn but realized I couldn't even get to the water there to find out what was going on. I just had a really bad feeling about this. I drove back to the harbor and Cliff's boat was tied up at the Coast Guard Station. I went over there and I saw Red Bartley being interviewed by the sheriffs. He looked at me and said, "We lost Randy. A shark got him." I broke down and cried.

I can't tell you what it felt like to take Randy's Grundens and clothes off Cliff's boat.

This is a guy I talked to almost every day, and he came up to Fort Bragg every chance he got to go salmon fishing or diving. We battled together for five years against those who would take our fishery away from us. This leaves a hole that can't be filled.

Good-bye, Randy, my good friend.

A lot of people are asking what they can do, about funeral arrangements and donating to a memorial. In dealing with the press, I tried to get the message across that this was a very special guy, a indefatigable warrior for all our best hopes for our fishery.

Red Bartley and I had the sad duty to identify Randy when the Coast Guard brought him in this morning. Fortunately we did not have to make a visual identification, which would have been very traumatic for me. We were able to describe his dive gear and fins and that was enough.

Red Bartley has been like a rock through this whole thing. He's been through it before and I can't say I have. This is new territory for me. I've never lost a closer friend. I also want to thank another RFA stalwart, Randy's friend Milo Vukovich, for being there and doing what needed to be done or said.

Randy was wearing an olive camo wetsuit that made him blend into the rocks. Cliff was wearing an all-black wetsuit and the shark passed by him, close enough to touch, and went for Randy. He could have had a bangstick, a Mossberg Mariner shotgun, an AK-47, but if you don't see it coming, none of that does any good.

Randy had said to Cliff many times: if he had to go, he wanted to go in the water.

After the shock and denial started wearing off, I started to ask myself what Randy would want us to do. The first thing he'd tell me: DON'T DROP THE BALL.

The only reason he was up here last weekend was to sign up new RFA members. He understood that the problems we face are political in nature. We both went through some hard times when we had the best evidence, the best arguments, and the biggest crowd in the Commission hearings and we still lost. It's political. **** happens in Washington DC, and **** flows down hill. All the rest is monkey talk. Randy had a knack for figuring out who had the power, identifying them, befriending them, and making things better for recreational anglers and our fisheries.

He had the perfect personality for this work: he liked the limelight, he liked people, and he loved to talk fish politics. He was willing to make the sacrifices necessary and we cannot replace him.

A few days ago, before the Fish Fry, I left a message on Randy's phone saying that "I needed a pep talk" because of some setbacks I had in organizing the Fish Fry. I can't even remember what it was about now but I wanted to whine. A few minutes later he called me and said:

"Oh, Cowboy Up, Pardner."

I bust out laughing. It was perfect Randy, short sweet and to the point. It was all the pep talk I needed. Four words, and he set me straight. A lot of people have been asking me what they can do and I have two words:

Join RFA.

Make a check out to "RFA", mark it to the "Randy Fry Memorial Fund" and send it to

c/o Jim Martin

POB 2420

Fort Bragg, CA 95437

I promise you, and I promise my loyal friend, this money will be used as Randy wanted it to be.

 
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