On 16th December 40 years ago, 16 year old Sheryl Teague was badly bitten by a shark off Jagger’s Walk, Fish Hoek. Reports claiming that she lost her arm are fortunately not true. Sheryl was very lucky that two Fish Hoek lifesavers, Brian Sturman and Johnny Smuts, were paddling nearby and immediately came to her aid. It is a story courage and training and is best told using the words of Sue Sturman, Brian’s wife. (Note Brian and Sue’s appeal at the end of the letter for any information about the whereabouts of Sheryl Teague today. )
Searching For Sheryl.
“It was a hot afternoon and Fish Hoek beach was packed. My husband, Brian Sturman and Johnny Smuts, members of the Fish Hoek Life-saving Club were enjoying a leisurely paddle on their paddle-skis close to Skeleton Rock on Jagger Walk, when they heard screaming and saw a girl in the water holding up her severely bleeding arm. While Johnny paddled hard clearing swimmers out of the water, Brian paddled over to the screaming girl and tried in vain to get her onto his ski. He then slid into the water and swam Sheryl to the rocks.(Normally a slow swimmer, he later thought he might have broken an Olympic record getting her to the shore). Although badly grazed by the sharp rocks, he managed to get her up on to the Jagger Walk.”
“Brian and some bathers applied first aid before she was taken to False Bay hospital. Fortunately a medical specialist Dr Singer rushed to the hospital from Muizenberg and managed to save Sheryl’s arm. We were told later that he arrived at the hospital with his clothes hastily pulled over his bathing costume. “
“The shark attack was a terrible shock to the whole Fish Hoek community as our wonderful beach was renowned for being very safe. (How tragic are the fatal attacks in recent years!)”
“Fortunately an expert was available for consultation! Dr. Alan Heydorn, director of the SA Association for Marine biological Research, who happened to be on holiday in Betty’s Bay, came to Fish Hoek to investigate. “The presence of paddle-skis, and in particular the brave action of Mr.Brian Sturman, who plunged into the water from his ski almost certainly frightened off the shark and saved Miss Teague from more serious injuries“. (Dr. Heydorn quoted in The Cape Times 18th December, 1971) In the days which followed, Brian was teased by friends who said that sharks are known to have sensitive hearing and as he is very large, the considerable underwater boom he made jumping into the water obviously frightened the shark.”
Sheryl’s father, a Mr. Teague of Meadowridge is reported in The Cape Times as saying: “there was no bone damage to Sheryl’s arm…the flesh was badly torn and tendons near the wrist were severed…It will not be necessary to amputate the hand, but the problem is whether the movement of her wrist and fingers will be affected as a result … she was very lucky“. Sheryl’s condition improved after she underwent a 4-hour operation the day after the attack.
The shark attack stunned the local community. The editor of the Echo, Mrs Cedryl Greenland renowned for her enthusiastic descriptions of Fish Hoek weddings preferred good news and was in denial that a brutal shark should sully the waters of Fish Hoek bay.
“Only a fortnight after the shark incident there was a surprising reaction very far from Fish Hoek! Brian was on a business trip to freezing New York. While attending a lunch at the South African embassy in Washington DC, to his utter amazement, the South African ambassador came up to him and asked “How is Sheryl?” When Brian asked him how on earth he knew about the Fish Hoek incident, the Ambassador replied that his staff always followed the SA newspapers.”
“Back in Fish Hoek, Brian was presented with a medal for bravery by the mayor of Fish Hoek, Mr Cronwright. He was a modest hero and joked that if he’d been wearing his glasses he might not have jumped into the water with the shark. He also said that Life-saving training is so good that life-savers react automatically in such situations.”
“The main reason we’re writing this letter is because we haven’t heard of Sheryl since 1971, although just after Xmas 1971,Brian visited the Teague family and received a lovely note from Sheryl thanking him and saying that she had often looked for him on the beach after the attack. We’d love to meet her and her family as on the 16th December this year it will be 40 years since the incident – we’d like to know whether her arm healed completely. We know she’s still in the Cape as our mid-wife friend Angela Wakeford has told us that she delivered Sheryl’s grandchild last year. If she or a friend or family member reads this letter, we’d be so pleased if she would contact us via the Echo or Fish Hoek life-saving club.. We live in Bethel Road, Clovelly and are in the phone book.”
Sue Sturman 6 December 2011
Fish Hoek shark attack survivor Cheryl le Roux (nee Teague) was interviewed by Cape Argus reporter in November 2004 following the fatal attack on Tyna Webb. “This is the first time since then that a report of a shark attack has affected me so much. Maybe it’s because it happened at the same place,” Le Roux said.
She remembers vividly how she and a group of friends were diving between the Rock Pool and Sunny Cove. Ironically she had started to swim back towards the beach when she saw the shark underneath her. It was about six feet long (nearly two metres). Cheryl remembers that she reacted quietly. She kept her legs very still while trying to see where the shark was. “Suddenly the fin popped out just in front of me, and as I brought my hand up it went into the shark’s mouth and was dragged across its razor-sharp teeth. It felt like a piece of elastic snapping, and my hand fell back to my elbow.” Click here to read the article ‘Shark attack brought a flood of memories’
I can’t resist highlighting some parallels between the story of Sheryl’s rescue in 1971 and that of Michael Cohen in September 2011. Click here to read how Douglas Drysdale, of Glencairn Heights, and Hugh Till, of Fish Hoek rescued Michael after he was attacked by a Great White shark off Clovelly, Fish Hoek.
In both cases, the respective rescuers showed remarkable courage by placing themselves in positions of high risk by getting into the bloodied water to assist the shark attack victims.
Brian, rather modestly, puts his actions down to good lifesaving training. The point he makes about training is significant and played a lifesaving role in both rescues. Michael Cohen who was in a critical condition, certainly owes his life in a large measure to the quality of first aid he received from Shark Spotter Monwabisi.