The family of a British backpacker killed by a sea snake in Australia has paid tribute to the 23-year-old, saying he was the ‘happiest he had ever been’ working on a boat.
Harry Evans died on Thursday, just two hours after he was bitten while working on a fishing trawler off the Northern Territory, near the remote island of Groote Eylandt.
Mr Evans, from Poole, Dorset, is the first person known to have died from a sea snake bite in Australia, and would have been saved if he had received anti-venom in time.
Harry’s devastated mother, Sharon, 48, added: ‘He knew he had been bitten by a sea snake.
‘Afterwards he had a shower, he went to the wheel house, he was saying he was fine. There wasn’t any seizures in agony or anything revolting.’
Mrs Evans said Harry had called her the day before he died telling her what a wonderful time he had been having in Australia.
‘Harry was the happiest he had ever been as an adult on that boat. He called me and said he was having the time of his life,’ she said.
Mrs Evans, a mental health practitioner, received a phone call on Thursday morning UK time from the boat skipper giving her the devastating news.
‘It sounded like some sort of sick joke at first. I was just in disbelief,’ she said.
In paying tribute to her son, Mrs Evans said: ‘Harry had the kindest heart and he had a great interest in people.’
His twin brother George said he always had time for people, whether they were a close friend or a complete stranger.
‘Everyone had a story and he wanted to hear about it,’ he said.
‘He was a funny guy, with a massive heart. We were extremely close all the way through. In the last few years I went to university, but the distance between us didn’t change things.’
Mr Evans was bitten in the thumb as he pulled a net aboard the boat, in which the extremely venomous snake was caught, about midday on Thursday.
After being bitten Harry told crew mates he felt fine before having a shower.
But he then began drifting in and out of consciousness and died about an hour later despite frantic efforts to revive him by the crew.
Harry’s twin brother George said: ‘When you think about being bitten by a snake you go back to all these documentaries that your body shuts down and it is horrendous, but it wasn’t.
‘It was all very peaceful. He was in and out of consciousness. They did CPR, but he just went and never came back.’
A rescue helicopter was dispatched from Darwin, about 700km (435miles) away, but the young man was dead before they even arrived, CareFlight’s David Wheeldon said.
Mr Evans was officially declared dead when the trawler reached the coastal town of Borroloola, police said.
St John Ambulance spokesman Craig Garraway said there was little emergency services could do to help him in such a remote location.
He said Mr Evans would have died within two hours of being bitten, as sea snakes in Australia were so deadly.
The Marine Education Society of Australasia confirmed Mr Evans’ death was the first in the country caused by a sea snake.
‘Had he received anti-venom he almost certainly would have survived,’ Associate Professor Bryan Fry, who studies venom at the University of Queensland, said.
Harry went to Poole High School and then trained for a year as a boat builder. He also worked as a part-time barman at two local pubs.
In 2014 he was involved in a motorbike accident in which he broke his leg and spent four years recovering from it.
He flew to Australia in August after arranging to work on the fishing trawler through the skipper, who is a family relation.
He flew to Darwin in the Northern Territory and was meant to be at sea until November.
He was due to fly back to the UK next February and had arranged to visit New Zealand next year.
Friends mourned the former Poole High School pupil on social media, expressing their shock at his sudden death miles from home.
‘You were one of the most kind-hearted and funniest people I’ve ever met. Always made everyone laugh and smile,’ George Jackson-Carter wrote.
What is a sea snake?
A majority of the 70 species of sea snakes are completely aquatic and cannot move well on land.
They most starkly differ from their land-living relatives in that they have a paddle-shaped tail which helps them swim.
Unlike fish, sea snakes cannot breathe under water and must come up to the surface for air, like a whale.
Sea snakes tend to grow to be between 4ft and 5ft long, with a few species reaching the double.
Their diet consists of small fish and octopodes, and while many sea snakes are highly venomous, they are not known to bite unless provoked.
Gino Coen wrote: ‘Such a shock. He was such a good lad! Will never forget that smile of his!’
Tobias Snow wrote: ‘What a massive shock. Had many of laughs with him and his brother back in the day.’
Some 30 of the 70 known species of sea snake – marine reptiles found in tropical waters – are found in Australia.
Sea snakes are venomous but are considered to be non-aggressive and rarely attack unless provoked. The snake is understood to have become agitated as it was dragged in the net.
The Marine Education Society of Australasia said most sea snake bites occur on trawlers, although only a small proportion are fatal to humans as it is rare for much venom to be injected.
NT Police were investigating and a post mortem would be conducted.
‘We are supporting the family of a British man who has died in the Northern Territory and are in contact with the Australian authorities,’ the UK Foreign Office said.