Discovery to Relive Worst Shark Attack Ever

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Beverly Hills, Calif. -- Discovery Channel will kick off the 20th anniversary of its franchise stunt, Shark Week, with a special about the worst shark attack in history.

On Friday, Discovery brought TV writers here two men who survived that attack in 1945, when the U.S.S. Indianapolis was sunk by torpedoes in the Philippine Sea, leaving its crew helplessly bobbing in the oil-slicked water, bait in the middle of killer shark territory.

Survivors Michael Kurlya and Harlan Twible were on a Television Critics Association panel on Ocean of Fear: Worst Shark Attack Ever,a two-hour special that debuts July 29.

Of the estimated 800-900 sailors who went into the water, only 317 survived. Although some of the victims were attacked by sharks and eaten by them, “only a couple of dozen” were actually killed by sharks, according to Phil Craig, Oceanof Fears executive producer.

“A lot of these men were in the water for four or five days with serious injuries facing thirst, exposure, dehydration,” Craig said. “That took more lives than the sharks.”

Kurlya told the writers he never gave up hope. “I knew I was going to come out,” he said.

But many of his fellow servicemen lost hope and perished. “A lot of men gave up and just died out there,” he said. “They were already gone, and they let their bodies go, and I guess the sharks feasted on them.”

When Peter Benchley wrote Jaws,the story of what happened to the men of the U.S.S. Indianapolis was classified by the government and secret, according to actor Richard Dreyfuss, who starred in Jaws and also narrates Oceanof Fear. He was on the TCA panel.

But in the intervening years, when Jaws director Steven Spielberg was preparing the film, the Indianapolis story was declassified, Dreyfuss said. And Spielberg made reference to it in Jaws.

“On the day after the film opened, Peter Benchley’s housekeeper, who had been with the Benchley family for 40 years, called Peter and said she wasn’t coming in the next day because her son had been on the Indianapolis and she had not known until she saw the film how he had died,” Dreyfuss said.

Surprisingly Kurlya, who was 19 when the tragedy took place, doesn’t hold a grudge against the sharks.

“The sharks did a lot of attacking, but I got nothing against sharks,” he said. “We were in their territory. And that’s where a shark belongs, not us.”

Twible, who was 23 at the time of the attack, all these years kept the wallet he had with him in the water, which had in it a four-leaf clover that his mother had given him for good luck.

“She said, ‘This will keep you through the war,’” Twible said.