Disney alligator attack: No longer search, but recovery effort

2016-06-15 18:41
Florida Fish and Wildlife search for a 2-year-old boy after he was dragged into the water by an alligator near Disney's resort hotel in Florida. (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Florida Fish and Wildlife search for a 2-year-old boy after he was dragged into the water by an alligator near Disney's resort hotel in Florida. (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel via AP)

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Orlando - An American family's Disney vacation turned into a nightmare when an alligator snatched their two-year-old boy at the shore of a resort lake, with police saying on Wednesday the toddler is now believed to be dead.

The tragedy at the Disney complex is the latest horror to hit the central Florida vacation town already reeling from Sunday's massacre at a gay nightclub in which 49 people were killed - the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Walt Disney World said it has shut down all of its Florida resort beaches and marinas out of precaution after the incident - the first such death in its 45-year history.

"We are dealing with this family now, who, there is no question, will lose a 2-year-old child," Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told reporters.

The child was snatched on Tuesday night at a lakeside beach at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa within the sprawling Disney complex and has now been in the water for more than 15 hours, he said.

"It certainly is not survivable at this point for him to have been submerged for this period of time. We know that this is a recovery effort at this point," Demings said, adding that rescuers would continue to search until the child's body is found.

The 'gator struck as the child was playing at the water's edge in the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon outside the Grand Floridian hotel, which is right across the water from the Magic Kingdom.

The father ran into the water and fought the animal, but could not rescue his son, officials said.

A search and rescue operation was launched right after the attack. Demings said 50 people were now taking part in it to find the body.

The child belonged to a family of five from the Midwestern state of Nebraska that was relaxing on the shore of the man-made lagoon.

The alligator emerged and snatched the boy around 21:00 on Tuesday (01:00 GMT on Wednesday).

The Grand Floridian is part of the massive Disney resort complex that includes several theme parks, water parks, hotels and golf courses.

"Everyone here at the Walt Disney World Resort is devastated by this tragic accident," Disney communications executive Jacquee Wahler said earlier in the day.

"We are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist law enforcement."

All-out search

Rescuers used sonar and floodlights to pursue their search overnight, as a helicopter hovered overhead. Firefighters stood on the water's edge with infrared cameras scanning the water for the child.

At least five 'gators have been captured and are being analysed, but there was so far no sign of the child, authorities said.

"Remember, it is Florida. And alligators are indigenous to this region of the country," Demings said.

"Disney has a wildlife management system that is in place and they have worked diligently to ensure that their guests are not unduly exposed to the wildlife here in this area," he added.

Professional 'gator trappers have been brought in to aid the recovery effort, the sheriff said.

Alligators are common in Florida, where they can be found in bodies of fresh water across the state, Nick Wiley from the Florida fish and wildlife service told reporters.

However, it is very rare for an alligator to attack a human, Wiley said.

Before this incident, there had only been 22 deaths from unprovoked alligator bites documented in Florida since 1948, according to the fish and wildlife service.

There was a no swimming sign at the lake, but no warning about alligators, he added.

'Horrendous' few days for Orlando

Two days before the nightclub massacre, singer Christina Grimmie, a former contestant on the popular TV show The Voice, was shot and killed by a gunman at Orlando's Plaza Live Theatre during a meet and greet event with fans. The gunman later killed himself.

"The past three or four days have been horrendous for our community," Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said on Wednesday as she addressed the town's latest crisis, the missing boy.

"I can't comprehend, I can't comprehend what any of this would be like as a parent," said Jacobs, who has a 20-year-old son.

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