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I spent four days in the water listening to the screams of 600 men being ripped apart by sharks – The Sun
EDGAR Harrell can still hear the screams of the friends who were clinging to each other as a school of hungry sharks began tearing chunks out of their legs.
The blue Pacific waters turned red with blood as, one-by-one, hundreds of men were eaten alive.
Edgar was one of 1,195 men onboard the USS Indianapolis in 1945, when it was torpedoed and sank, leaving him and hundreds of others fighting for survival in shark-infested waters.
Over four days, hundreds of men were attacked by the beasts in the middle of the Philippine Sea before miraculously, they were accidentally found by a friendly bomber plane.
"All we heard was men being eaten alive. Every day, every night," said Edgar, in an exclusive interview with Sun Online. He was just 20 years old at the time of the attack.
"You’d find your buddy and check him and find that he’s disembowelled, or the bottom was gone."
It has since become known as the worst shark attack in history and inspired the character of Captain Quint in the blockbuster Jaws, who said he had survived the attack.
900 people in shark-infested waters
On the night of July 30 1945, the Indianapolis was sailing from Tinian Island to the Philippines after completing a secret mission delivering uranium for the Hiroshima atomic bomb, which was dropped just one week later.
At 12:14am, a Japanese submarine fired six torpedoes at the Indianapolis, and two hit it directly.
Sergeant Harrell, who was on lookout that night, told Sun Online: "One of the torpedoes cut the bow of the ship off.
"The second exploded under a turret.
"I could see and hear and feel all the water coming in below me, and the ship began flooding."
He scrambled to get a life jacket and then clung on to a rail as the sinking ship started to go down, watching in horror as badly burned men ran screaming from the vessel.
Harrell said: "I hung on to that rail looking out into the blackness of the night.
"May I say there’s times when you pray and there’s times when you pray."
He then leapt into the water as the ship went down in the pitch black.
He said: "I swam away from the ship and towards a group of marines who had already fled the boat.
"One was badly injured and he died in my arms within the next hour."
Three hundred men went down with the ship, leaving another 900 bobbing in the pitch-dark waters.
Sailors eaten alive
While Harrell and his comrades were thankful to have survived the Japanese bombers, it soon became clear they faced an even more terrifying enemy – the hundreds of oceanic whitetip and tiger sharks who prowl the Pacific.
In the next few hours as day broke, Harrell was floating with a group of around 80 other men when sharks started to circle.
The men clung to each other in a bid to intimidate the creatures. But those who were injured began floating free of their grip.
When anyone was alone in the open, the predators would close in.
Harrell says: "You would hear a blood-curdling scream and look and see someone going under."
And as the victims' blood spread in the water, sharks – who can smell blood up to three miles away – were attracted to the defenceless sailors, creating a feeding frenzy.
Harrell added: "When you get some 900 boys out there decaying in misery, sharks are gonna swim through there and they’re gonna attack what’s in their road.
"If I’m flopping around in their road, they’re going to take me under, and they only have to hit you once.
"All we heard was men being eaten alive. Every day, every night."
Battle for survival
The dwindling group of sailors had no food, and faced baking heat during the day and extreme cold at night.
They were also severely dehydrated — which drove some desperate men into drinking seawater.
Harrell said: "You could nearly time it after they’d drunk that salt water — within the hour their mind was completely gone, hallucinating."
On the second day, the men were able drink a few drops of rainwater that fell by catching it in their mouths.
But by noon on the third day, of the 80 men Harrell had first huddled with in the water, just 17 were still alive.
At some point later that day, a group of five other sailors floated over to Harrell with a makeshift raft they'd made from empty aluminium ammunition cases and orange crates.
The new arrivals pleaded with Harrell's group to try and paddle closer to the Philippines or they'd never be found.
He and his friend Spooner went with the five new arrivals — the 12 left behind wouldn't survive.
On the same day they split from the group, Harrell found a crate of potatoes floating by.
He said: "They were rotten. But solid on the inside.”
Desperate, the men peeled the mould off with their teeth.
He added: "That’s all the water and food that I had for four-and-a-half days."
OCEANIC WHITETIP SHARKS
Oceanic whitetip sharks live in warm waters and can grow over 4m (13ft) long.
They're identified by their long, white-tipped fins – which are highly valued as the main ingrediant in shark fin soup.
Whitetips are slow-moving opportunistic hunters in the upper lyers of deep-water areas, eating mainly squids and bony fish.
They're known to be particularly dangerous to survivors of ship and plane wrecks at sea, and they're thought to have been the species which killed the majority of the Indianapolis survivors.
And whitetips were also the species which ate many of the survivors of the RMS Nova Scotia, torpedoed near South Africa in 1942.
Exact figures for incidents like these aren't recorded in official shark-bite records, meaning there are five other species ahead of them in terms of the number of official attacks on humans.
But oceanographer Jacques Cousteau called whitetips 'the most dangerous of all sharks'.
'He saw sharks attacking boys'
The next day, an American bomber flying overhead accidentally stumbled across the men while on an antisubmarine patrol.
Until that point, the US Navy incredibly had no idea the Indianapolis had gone under — and that there were survivors waiting to be rescued.
A massive search operation was immediately launched — with Robert Adrian Marks first to arrive on the scene in an amphibious plane.
Harrell said: "He saw sharks attacking boys, he saw stragglers out in the distance."
Marks disobeyed orders to not land in the rough seas when he saw the shark feeding frenzy, hauling 49 survivors into the small aircraft and strapping another seven to its wings.
That evening, after nearly five days of constant shark attacks and dehydration, seven ships arrived and pulled the other remaining survivors to safety.
Of the 1,195 crew on the ship when it was torpedoed, just 316 were left alive alive.
Harrell was shipped off to hospital to recuperate — and he was awarded the Purple Heart for bravery.
He says: "Only the providence of a sovereign God allowed me to survive, and I give Him credit in my book Out of the Depths, plus every time I speak.
"He never lets me forget."
"I still relive those terrible days and never forget to give my lord and saviour all the credit."
Tiger sharks can grow over 5m (16ft 5in) long and are found in tropical waters, especially around central Pacific islands.
Its name comes from the dark stripes along its body which look like a tiger's pattern – these markings disappear with age.
Tiger sharks are normally solitary apex predators which hunt mostly at night.
It eats fish, seals, birds, turtles, dolphins, and even other smaller shark.
Only great white sharks have more recorded fatal attacks on humans than tiger sharks.
Tiger sharks are one of the 'Big Three' sharks (along with great whites and bull sharks) because of the danger they pose to people.
That's because they're commonly found in areas where humans enter the water and have teeth designed for cutting rather than holding.
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