A killer whale that dragged a trainer to her death eluded SeaWorld workers who furiously unfurled nets while it swam pool-to-pool during the attack last week, according to witness statements released Monday.
After minutes of frenzied work to save Dawn Brancheau, the whale was finally corralled but still refused to unclench its teeth, according to the investigative reports released by the Orange County Sheriff's Office. Investigators have said before that she died from multiple traumatic injuries and drowning.
"The whale would not let us have her," another trainer, Jodie Ann Tintle, told investigators after the Wednesday attack.
In the investigative reports, Brancheau's co-workers describe the swiftness of the attack and the furious response that came after alarms sounded around the pool. SeaWorld employees who were at other pools, behind computers or emptying coolers of fish rushed to the scene. The attack occurred in front of about 20 visitors who had stuck around after a noontime show.
Jan Topoleski, who monitored trainers' safety during shows, told investigators he saw Brancheau, 40, lying on the deck face-to-face with the 22-foot-long, 12,000-pound whale, Tilikum, communicating with him, right before the attack. He said Tilikum bit Brancheau's hair and, within two seconds, had pulled her into the pool. He sounded an alarm and grabbed safety equipment.
Susanne De Wit, a 33-year-old tourist from the Netherlands, told investigators her group had just walked to a window for a photo when she saw the attack.
"Suddenly I saw (the whale) grabbing the trainer ... and pulling her down in the water," she said. "It was scary. He was very wild, with the trainer still in the whale's mouth, the whale's tail was very wild in the water."
It's not clear how long it took workers to finally trap the whale in a pool with the hydraulic lift, which they used to remove him from the water. One witness said it seemed like 10 minutes.
Even after the whale was pulled from the water on the lift, Brancheau still could not be freed.
"Tilly was not giving up Dawn," said Robin Ann Morland, another SeaWorld worker.
Numerous employees said the whale's jaw had to be pried open to remove Brancheau. But her hand remained in the clench of Tilikum and they had to pry his mouth open again.
When they finally got Brancheau free, her body was placed on the deck and covered.