Death on a reef

We spent five days snorkelling last week on islands off the Sabah coast. The worst thing that happened was that we stung by the tiny jellyfish called stingers. More a nuisance than anything else. We did see one small shark and some stingrays.

When we were on Snake Island, someone made a remark about the place being the ideal sort of place for Steve Irwin – the TV “Crocodile Hunter”, with all those snakes about for him to tackle. Not, I must admit, my ideal show as I always thought there was far too much harrassment of wild animals. I guess I just don’t like seeing wild animals filmed in a way which indicates they are stressed. And now Irwin is dead, in Queensland, stung by a stingray that felt threatened by his too-close presence and lashed out with its tail to pierce his chest. Such a silly, tragic way to die.

It reminds me of an even more bizarre death that occurred back in the 1960s in the Straits of Melaka. The Malaysian coastguard or navy was towing an open boat with several Indonesian soldiers on board who had been caught trying to enter Malaysia. (Remember the so-called “Confrontation”? Such a ridiculous, small-scale business no one wanted to call it a war or an invasion, even though some soldiers were sent to “invade” Malaysia.)
Anyway, one of the soldiers keeled over, mysteriously dead. All that could be found was a small wound, on his neck, if I remember correctly.

It took an autopsy to discover what had happened. It seemed that a small flying fish with a pointed snout had hit the man as his boat was being towed – the snout had broken off and the rest of the fish disappeared overboard, leaving a dead man. Killed by a small flying fish.


Death on a reef — 6 Comments

  1. That really is a bizarre death! So what exactly killed him? The impact? The bit of fish migrating to a vital organ? What?

    Enquiring minds want to know … *g*

  2. I don’t actually have the article with me to check, so this is from memory: the flying fish has an elongated upper snout, like a swordfish, although it is tiny. The boat must have been zipping along fast as it was towed – probably in the dark, so the people didn’t actually see what happened. The fish leaped out of the water “flying”, collided with the man in the boat head-on going in the opposite direction. My recollection is that the broken off portion of the fish was like a dart, and it speared his carotid artery. The shock of an impact on the carotid like this can actually stop a person’s heart, quite apart from the bleeding. If he did bleed, it was internally, which is why everyone was puzzled. I think there was some suspicion that the Malaysians might have killed him, so they must have been relieved when the autopsy cleared them. I know about it because it was written up in the Malaysian Nature Journal (because of the involvement of a flying fish!)and the medical examiner asked someone from the society to identify the piece he took out of the man.

    Anyone who is interested can search for the article in the 1960’s MNJ – and corrct me if my memory has some of the details wrong!

  3. Well, blow me down.

    Hey, do you reckon folk sit around in the Afterlife comparing death stories, trying to one-up each other? Kind of like the scars scene in Jaws?

    If they do, you gotta think that guy’s in the running to win. *g*

    Thanks for the info! It’s one for the books, all right.

  4. Hm, flying fish turned suicide pilot, or front line shock troop, with natural weaponry too. Giving me an idea to fit into a story …

    Yes, pity about Steve Irwin – one of those stupid, pointless accidents in life. 😮

  5. Hrugaar – hey, take it and run with it!

    Karen, there are so many stupid ways of dying one wonders how anyone survives to a grand old age! I know I owe my life to antibiotics, but I also almost killed myself at eleven when I slipped and fell headfirst off a boulder onto some rocks. Concussed and with a fractured skull, I can’t remember a thing about the rest of that day, even though I picked myself up and tagged along after my friends. At twelve I was hit by a car while riding my bike. At sixteen I almost fell off a mountain. At eighteen I almost drowned while rescuing someone who couldn’t swim. And so it goes on until a few years back when I was bitten by 38 wasps…I really thought I was dead that time.

    And yet I’m still here. Maybe there’s a reason – I have yet to write that classic bestseller, that’s what…

  6. now that is bizarre!! the kind of thing that if you put it in a novel no-one would believe you

    i’m sad about steve irwin’s death. he popularised the less loveable (to some) of nature’s creatures and wildlife needs all the friends it can get … you’re right about him stressing the animals though

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