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A 40-Year-Old Trainer was Killed by a Killer Whale at SeaWorld

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(CNN) — A 40-year-old trainer was killed Wednesday by a killer whale at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, officials said.

The trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was in the whale holding area about 2 p.m. when she somehow ended up the tank and was fatally injured by the whale, officials said. Accounts on how Brancheau ended up into the tank varied.

A witness told CNN affiliate WKMG-TV that the whale approached the glass side of the 35-foot-deep tank at Shamu Stadium, jumped up and grabbed the trainer by the waist, shaking her so violently that her shoe came off. A SeaWorld employee, who asked not to be identified, also described the incident the same way.

But Orange County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Brancheau slipped into the tank.

“This appears to be an accident,” said Jim Solomons.

The whale’s name is Tillikum, the SeaWorld employee said. The same whale has been linked previously to two other deaths.

“One of our most experience animal trainers drowned” in the accident, said Dan Brown, vice president and general manager of SeaWorld Orlando.

He said an investigation will be carried out.

“We’ll make our findings known in due course,” he said. “We’ve never in the history of our parks experienced an incident like this. All standard operating procedures will be reviewed.”

He would not elaborate.

“Please bear with us, we’ve just lost a member of our family,” he said.

The incident occurred after a show called “Dine with Shamu,” said Paula Gillespie, who attended the show with her daughter.

“During the show, everything was perfectly fine,” she told CNN.

Afterward, “we went down to look at his full body underneath the isolation tank,” she said. “Everything seemed calm and OK. The trainer was laying down on him and kissing his nose and rubbing him.”

But the scene changed quickly, she said.

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