Sri Lanka near Aragum Bay and Elephant Rock, with its series of sand-bottomed right points so popular with surfers from all over. Pic:

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Paul McClean, a 24-year-old British journalist for the Financial Times, died following a crocodile attack Thursday afternoon while holidaying with friends in Sri Lanka.

McClean, along with a group of seven friends, had been surfing Thursday on a surf break known as Elephant Rock, a popular tourist destination between Arugam Bay and the city of Panama in southeast Sri Lanka.

 McClean needed to relieve himself and ventured alone into a nearby area, overgrown with vegetation, according to Fawas Lafeer, the owner of Safa Surf School, which is located about a mile up the coast. He then dipped his hands into a nearby lagoon to wash up, Lafeer told The Washington Post, citing local witnesses.

Lafeer, who was about 10 feet away at the time, suddenly heard a fisherman screaming. He ran to the muddy lagoon, where a fisherman told him a crocodile had dragged a tourist — McClean — underwater. For a fleeting moment, Lafeer saw an arm reaching out of the water, he told The Post.

“At the last minute, we saw the fingers,” he said. “We tried to find the body, we couldn’t.”

After Lafeer and the fisherman failed to rescue McClean, they called local authorities. Arugam Bay Police requested the help of the Sri Lankan Navy, which immediately rushed to the scene. But by the time the Navy reached the lagoon, it was past 5 p.m., and too dark to search the waters, Cmdr. Lankanatha Dissanayake, a spokesman for the Navy, told The Post.

On Friday morning, the Navy found a body in the lagoon, about 50 feet from the shore, and identified it as McClean’s. It was intact, with wounds on his right leg below and above the knee, Dissanayake told The Post.

The body has been transported for an autopsy, according to Satya Rodrigo, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed Friday morning that it was “assisting the family of a British man who has been reported missing in Sri Lanka” but provided no further details.

McClean was just one month shy of his 25th birthday when he died, according to the Financial Times.
He had been vacationing in Sri Lanka along with a group of two female friends and five male friends, the Navy spokesman said. They were staying at Green Beach Hotel, which offers cabanas and rooms about a 12-minute walk from the beach in Arugam Bay. A desk receptionist said McClean’s friends were all out at the lagoon Friday morning as the Navy searched for his remains.

Elephant Rock is a popular among beginning surfers because of its sandy bar and safe, shallow waters. The lagoon where McClean was attacked is located about a half-mile from the beach. On a daily basis, fishermen can be seen along a nearby river, lined with mangroves and vegetation. But, the Navy spokesman said, “the villagers, they don’t use that lagoon because they know there are crocodiles.” McClean, as a tourist, must not have known, he said.

Lafeer, of the nearby surf club, said three fishermen have been attacked by crocodiles in recent memory, but they have only been injured.


Paul McClean in a photo from Facebook.


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