The victim of Sydney’s first fatal shark attack in 60 years survived two tours of Afghanistan before he was mauled by a great white during an afternoon swim.
Simon Nellist, 35, lost his life on Wednesday afternoon while practising for an ocean swim at Little Bay, in Sydney’s east – just 100m from horrified onlookers.
Relatives said his distraught mother was left wondering ‘how could he return from the frontline unscathed to then go to Australia, go out for a swim and get killed.’
On Friday, a close friend shared a post the former soldier wrote last year from his time spent in Afghanistan with the UK Royal Air Force.
In the post, Mr Nellist wrote about playing music by the band Rage Against The Machine to local children.
Pictured: Simon Nellist playing Rage Against The Machine with children in Afghanistan
Simon Nellist was going to marry ‘the love of his life’ Jessie Ho (pictured together)
Mr Nellist wrote that the kids ‘were so nice, just good-hearted kids who had nothing. We made friends, played music and shared food.
‘I hope they’re okay. If they managed to escape, I hope we can look after as many of them as possible.’
The shark victim’s friend shared the post to show ‘the kind of gentleman Simon was.
‘He was rare, salt of the earth, lived life to the max, an incredible diver and photographer, a brave soldier, a fine looking man, his heart was wholesome,’ she said.
‘I can’t stop thinking about him, his family, the love of his life Jessie and the pain they are feeling.’
A close friend shared a post the former soldier wrote last year from one of Mr Nellist’s two tours of Afghanistan while serving with the UK Royal Air Force
Friends flocked to social media to pay tribute to Simon Nellist, who grew up in England
She said he was too young to die, and didn’t deserve to do so in such a horrific way.
Mr Nellist, who grew up in Cornwall in England’s south-west, was due to marry his fiancée Jessie Ho this summer.
Other friends shared photos of Mr Nellist, including another of his time in the military.
‘Not one bone in your body,’ one man said. ‘Some quality times together, buddy. Rest easy.’
British diving instructor Simon Nellist, 35, died just 500ft from horrified beachgoers near Sydney
One friend said ‘there is not one bad bone in your body’ in a touching Facebook post (pictured)
His aunt Jacqui Seager, 62, said on Thursday: ‘I don’t think Simon would want the shark to be killed. He loved nature.
‘He swam with sharks before. This isn’t the first time he’s gone out and seen them but he would still go out swimming. That’s brave.
‘I don’t think he ever thought they would hurt him. Sadly, this time it managed to get to him.
‘It’s absolutely horrendous. We are all in shock.’
Simone Nellist is pictured second from the right, with a group of friends
His aunt Jacqui Seager, 62, said on Thursday: ‘I don’t think Simon would want the shark to be killed. He loved nature. Mr Nellist is pictured second left.
Photographer Mrs Seager, of Maidstone, Kent, added: ‘He swam most days. This is just a freak accident. It shows you can’t take life for granted.’
His death at Buchan Point on Wednesday forced authorities to close most beaches.
Special ‘drum lines’ – aquatic traps using baited hooks to lure and capture large sharks – were set up in the water.
However, they are controversial because sharks have died in them. They also often catch other wildlife.
Mr Nellist had hit out over their use saying they ‘protect no one’ and ‘need to go’.
Mr Nellist, who grew up in Penzance, Cornwall, served two tours in Afghanistan before settling in Australia and was due to marry his fiancée Jessie Ho this summer
His death comes weeks before ‘smart’ drum lines were reportedly due to be installed which could have prevented the tragedy.
Mother-of-three Mrs Seager said: ‘He told his mum he was going to travel to Australia and that was that. He loved it so much that he stayed.
‘He met his girlfriend Jessie out there. They’re around the same age and instantly hit it off. They’ve been together for years.
‘She is totally in bits, as are his parents. I spoke to them last night and they are beyond belief.
‘They will never get through this – ever – as this is something you keep with you for life. I just feel so sorry for them.
‘They are planning to get out there as soon as they can but need to sort visas out.
‘Everyone was going to fly out there to see him get married in June or July but sadly it is now in much sadder circumstances.’
Mr Nellist was the first person to be killed by a shark in the Sydney area since the 1960s
Mrs Seager stressed: ‘Simon always loved the sea. He was always very close to it. He loved wildlife and the world.
‘He had a real love affair with nature. He was a very kind and considerate man who just loved life. He was a strong guy and did two tours of Afghanistan.
‘His mum said how could he return from the frontline unscathed to then go to Australia, go out for a swim and get killed.’
Mr Nellist served with the UK’s 34 Squadron, based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. His shocked parents Mike and Rosemary, of Helston, Cornwall, declined to comment yesterday.
Experts believe the shark which killed Mr Nellist on his daily swim was at least 10ft long and might have mistaken his wetsuit for a seal.
Mrs Seager stressed: ‘Simon always loved the sea. He was always very close to it. He loved wildlife and the world. He had a real love affair with nature’
He had been training for a swimming event on Sunday but it has now been cancelled. Dr Chris Pepin-Neff, of Sydney University, said such shark attacks were incredibly rare, with just ten or 12 of its kind in 30 years around the world.
But he added: ‘It’s not crazy for sharks to bite humans thinking we might be prey.’
Mr Nellist’s friend Della Ross described the diving community’s devastation, saying: ‘Everything that is connected to Simon is connected to the ocean.
‘The news hit us like a truck because he was one of the people who make this Earth lighter.’