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A man was killed by sharks in a rare fatal attack this afternoon in the waters off Stuart, authorities said.
Stephen Howard Schafer, 38, of Stuart was kite surfing south of Stuart Beach about 4:15 p.m. when the sharks attacked him, according to Bureau Chief Doug Killane of Martin County Fire-Rescue and Martin County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Rhonda Irons.
A lifeguard through his binoculars spotted the man floating about a quarter-mile offshore in an unguarded stretch of ocean, Irons said. The lifeguard paddled to him on a rescue board, pulled the man away from the sharks and carried him back to shore.
Rescue workers gave the man CPR before paramedics brought him to Martin Memorial Hospital, where he died.
The Martin County Sheriff's Office was investigating the death, said sheriff's Capt. Mark McKinley.
"I've been here 25 years," McKinley said. "To my knowledge, this is the first shark-related fatality we've seen."
In fact, Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties have all escaped fatal shark attacks until now, according to the International Shark Attack File compiled at the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History
Schafer's friends told TCPalm.com they are shocked by his death.
"I've never heard of multiple sharks in this area surrounding someone and fatally wounding him," said the victim's childhood friend, Teague Taylor, 36. "He was the nicest person ever."
On Tuesday, the day before the fatal attack, Taylor told TCPalm.com he was surfing near where his friend was attacked and he saw several sharks.
"You always think in the back of your mind that they (sharks) are out there," he said.
Jordan Schwartz, who has known Schafer for five years, told TCPalm.com that Schafer was a very experienced kiteboard surfer.
"He was a super nice guy. Always mellow. I don't think he had any enemies," he said.
Sharks have been gathering along Palm Beach County beaches recently in their annual chase of baitfish, Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue Lt. Don May said last week when a hammerhead shark was caught off Ocean Reef Park.
Lemon, bull and hammerhead sharks often are seen off area beaches this time of year, Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue Lt. Don May said.
It was unknown whether Stuart Beach would be open Thursday.
According to the International Shark Attack File compiled at the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History, Martin County had never had a fatal shark attack before. A person was killed in Indian River County in 1998.
The last shark-bite fatality in Florida was in 2005, according to the file, in Walton County in the Panhandle.
However, in 2008, Florida had the most unprovoked attacks in the United States — the total of 32 attacks was equal to the 32 reported in 2007. Surfers/windsurfers were at highest risk, with nearly 57 percent of the reported attacks in the report's compilation.
Staff writers Emily Roach and Bill DiPaolo contributed to this story