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Friday, September 4, 1998 Published at 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK

World: Europe

Mystery bite kills Briton

A Briton on holiday in Majorca has died after apparently being bitten by a fish or sea snake while snorkelling.

Daniel Schweimler reports on the teenager's death
Jonathan Wickings, 18, was bitten while swimming during a catamaran trip from Palma, the Majorcan capital, according to eyewitnesses.

The teenager, from Portsmouth, was pulled back on to the boat after his girlfriend raised the alarm.

He was taken by speedboat to a jetty at Cala Blava, where the boat had set anchor.

Staff from a German-run medical centre tried to revive him with heart massage, but to no avail.

Phil Allan, from Aberdeen, who was on the boat with the couple, said: "It was very distressing. His girlfriend was on the jetty with him, and when the doctors stopped the massage, she let out a howling wail. It was awful.

"Our boat, and another catamaran, were moored very close. About 100 people, including lots of women and children had to watch all this go on."

Mr Allan was critical of the boat's crew. He said: "There was no leadership at all, they didn't seem to know what to do."

He said that the moment the catamaran returned to Palma, the same boat and crew set off for Cala Blava with more passengers.

"They said they wouldn't allow people to swim this time. I couldn't believe it."

A spokesman for Suncat, the charter company operating the catamaran, denied the boat's crew had acted incorrectly.

He said: "They asked immediately if there were any doctors on board, and then headed straight for the nearest set-down point, Panorama Beach."

He confirmed the catamaran had taken on new passengers in Palma, but said they were taken nowhere near Cala Blava.

Cause unknown

It is not yet known what bit or stung the teenager, or whether his death was the result of toxins or an allergic reaction.

Mr Donaldson said biologists at a local marine conservation centre told him the death was probably a rare allergic reaction.

He said: "Apparently fishermen get bitten by them occasionally, but all that happens is that the area around the bite swells up. The figure they mentioned was a one in 10 million chance of having this allergic reaction."

Mr Allan said an eyewitness in the boat told him a snake was responsible.

Other reports said a description given by crew members to a marine expert in Palma pinned the blame on a fish known locally as a Spider Fish.

Humphrey Carter, of the English-language Majorca Daily Bulletin newspaper, said the fish's bite was poisonous, but was usually only fatal for children or elderly people.

He said: "I understand other tourists have been attacked in the past."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said they were waiting for a post-mortem to confirm the cause of death.

Dave Smithson, from Sunset Holidays: "Chances were one in 10 million"
A spokesman for Sunset Holidays, with whom Mr Wickings was travelling, said all boat trips to the Cala Blava cove had been suspended until the cause of death was discovered.

He said: "We do not wish to frighten or alarm people, but it is the sensible thing to do until we discover what caused this tragedy.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to his family."

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