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Australian coroner warns people aren't safe in boats after leaping crocodile kills fisherman


CANBERRA, Australia — The extraordinary death of a fisherman snatched from his boat by a leaping crocodile prompted a coroner on Friday to urge authorities to warn boat users of the growing crocodile danger in northern Australia.

Wildlife rangers in the Northern Territory have heard reports of crocodiles launching at, nudging and biting boats, the territory government told a coroner's inquest into Bill Scott's death last year. The inquest ended on Friday with Coroner Greg Cavanagh making his report and recommendations.

Family and friends watched in horror as a 4.74 meter (15 foot, 7 inch) crocodile leapt from a waterhole and clamped its jaws around the left shoulder and chest of Bill Scott as he stood in his 3.5-meter (12-foot) aluminum boat. The crocodile then flipped the 62-year-old man into the water and he was never seen again alive.

Cavanagh said Scott might be the first person known to have been taken by a croc from a boat. But it was not the first time a croc had tried, Cavanagh said.

Fisherman Jeff Bolitho had testified to the inquest that a 4-meter (13-foot) croc once leapt over the side of his boat, knocking Bolitho off his chair and leaving teeth marks in the back of his head and shoulder.

Cavanagh recommended that the Northern Territory government add to its public crocodile warnings that: "Saltwater crocodiles can attack people in boats and the smaller the boat, the greater the risk."

Wildlife rangers have added protective railings on their own boats since the death. But authorities are reluctant to recommend that the public do the same in case leaning on railings makes some types of hull less stable.

Scott's death happened in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park at a waterhole named Bill Dean Billabong. It was crocodile hunter Bill Dean's favorite place to shoot crocodiles until they became a protected species under federal law in 1971.

With hunting banned, croc numbers in the Northern Territory have exploded from 3,000 to an estimated 80,000 to 100,000.

Because saltwater crocodiles can live up 70 years and grow throughout their lives, reaching up to 7 meters (23 feet), the proportion of large crocodiles is also rising.

Cavanagh found that crocs had become familiar with boats and generally no longer fear humans as they did when humans were predators.

Of the 21 people killed by crocs in in the Northern Territory since 1974, four died last year. That was the largest annual toll since records began. There have been no fatal attacks in Australia this year.

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