Photo: Dawn Brancheau.
Petrified visitors who had stuck around after a noontime "Dine with Shamu" show watched the animal charge through the pool with the trainer in its jaws. Workers used nets as an alarm sounded, but it was too late. Dawn Brancheau had drowned. It marked the third time the animal had been involved in a human death.
The whale, named Tilikum, apparently grabbed Brancheau by her long ponytail, according to the head of animal training at all SeaWorld parks, Chuck Tompkins.
Brancheau's interaction with the whale appeared leisurely and informal at first to audience member Eldon Skaggs. But then, the whale "pulled her under and started swimming around with her," Skaggs told the Associated Press.
"It was terrible. It's very difficult to see the image," said Brazilian tourist Joao Lucio DeCosta Sobrinho. He and his girlfriend said they watched the whale show at the park two days earlier and came back to take pictures. But on Wednesday the whales appeared agitated.
"He was thrashing her around pretty good. It was violent," witness Victoria Biniak told the Orlando Sentinel. The whale "took off really fast in the tank and he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing (her) around," she told the paper.
She said the attack was so violent that Brancheau's shoe flew off.
Some workers hustled the audience out of the stadium while the others tried to save Brancheau, 40.
SeaWorld's Web site said the park would be open Thursday but that killer whale shows were suspended for the time being at its Orlando and San Diego, California, parks. Its third location in San Antonio, Texas, is not yet open for the season.
MORE ON CRIMESIDER
February 25, 2010 - Dawn Brancheau Pictures: SeaWorld Trainer Loved Whale That Killed Her
February 24, 2010 - Tillikum the Killer Whale Had Violent Past Before Deadly Attack on SeaWorld Trainer
February 24, 2010 - SeaWorld Trainer Killed by Tillikum the Whale