Page last updated at 00:51 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 01:51 UK

SeaWorld killer whale 'caught trainer's hair'

File pic of Dawn Brancheau and an orca at SeaWorld
Trainer Dawn Brancheau had 16 years' experience

A trainer at a US aquatic park was dragged to her death by a killer whale after her long hair drifted into the animal's mouth, a police report says.

Trainer Dawn Brancheau was lying nose-to-nose with the orca in shallow water when the incident happened at the SeaWorld park in Florida.

She escaped to the surface briefly but the animal struck her twice more before she was dragged under again.

Ms Brancheau, 40, was killed while performing with 'Tilikum' in February.

The medical examiner ruled that she died from drowning and traumatic injuries.

SeaWorld employee Lynn Shaber, said the whale, Tilikum, was "a possessive animal" and she had therefore known Ms Brancheau was in trouble when she saw her underwater, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office report.

"He normally keeps things that he has and will not release them," the report quoted her as saying.

Rescue attempts

Jan Topoleski, another trainer, sounded an alarm when he saw Ms Brancheau's hair was caught in the orca's mouth. By the time he looked back, she was underwater.

She managed to free herself and made it to the surface but was hit again by Tilikum at least twice, the police report said.

Workers were quick to use nets to try to capture the whale but it took half an hour for them to succeed in freeing her body.

Employees used nets and threw food at the whale in an attempt to distract him but one worker said it only made the animal more agitated.

Moving from pool to pool in the complex, they eventually captured Tilikum and released Ms Brancheau's body, before realising that the whale still had her arm.

Ms Brancheau, a trainer with 16 years' experience, was attacked in front of an audience at the SeaWorld park on 24 February.

The killer whale was also reportedly involved in the death of a female trainer in Canada in 1991.

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