Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Whale kills trainer as horrified audience watch

A seaworld killer snatched her trainer from a poolside platform Wednesday in its jaws and thrashed the woman around underwater, killing her in front of the horrified audience.

Dawn Brancheau, trainer, was rubbing Tilikum after a noontime show when the 12,000-pound whale grabbed her and pulled her in, said Chuck Tompkins, head of animal training at all SeaWorld parks. Park officials said that the trainer drowned.

Skaggs, 72, said an alarm sounded and staff rushed the audience out of the stadium as workers scrambled around with nets.

Skaggs said he heard that during an earlier show the whale was not responding to directions. Others who attended the earlier show said the whale was behaving like an ornery child.

He left with his wife and didn't find out until later that the trainer had died. The retired couple from Michigan had been among some stragglers in the audience who had stayed to watch the animals and trainers when the accident occurred.

The experience of Dawn Bracheau is the not first attack, during November 2006, a trainer was bitten and held underwater several times by a killer whale during a show at SeaWorld's San Diego park.

The trainer, Kenneth Peters, escaped with a broken foot. The 17-foot orca that attacked him was the dominant female of SeaWorld San Diego's seven killer whales. She had attacked Peters two other times, in 1993 and 1999.

Wednesday's attack was the second time in two months that an orca trainer was killed at a marine park. On Dec. 24, 29-year-old Alexis Martinez Hernandez fell from a whale and crushed his ribcage at Loro Parque on the Spanish island of Tenerife. Park officials said the whale, a 14-year-old named Keto, made an unusual move as the two practiced a trick in which the whale lifts the trainer. 

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