Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer with 16 years of experience working with killer whales, was knee deep in water when the SeaWorld killer whale pulled her underwater by her long ponytail, authorities say.
“Rescuers were not able to immediately jump in and render assistance to Brancheau due to the whale’s aggressive nature,” says a report released Thursday by the Orange County Florida Sheriff’s Department. “She was recovered from the whale by SeaWorld staff members after the animal was coaxed into a smaller pool and lifted out of the water by a large scale/platform.”
Brancheau’s cause of death was “most likely” multiple traumatic injuries and drowning, the report says, citing autopsy results.
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In the first detailed official account of Wednesday’s attack at the Orlando theme park in front of dozens of horrified visitors, the report says “there are no signs of foul play” and “all evidence and witness statements indicate that the death was a tragic accident.”
The report also corrected earlier official accounts that Brancheau had slipped into the tank.
“First responders to the accident scene at the stadium believed that the victim had somehow slipped or fell into the orca’s pool,” the report says, “but after witness statements were taken and reviewed by homicide investigators, it became apparent that the whale had, in fact, pulled Brancheau into the pool and was the cause of her fatal injuries.”
Brancheau’s mother, Marion Loverde, told the Orlando Sentinel that being a trainer for killer whales was her daughter’s “dream” and that “she loved her job.”