An American family’s Disney vacation turned into a nightmare when an alligator snatched a two-year-old boy at the shore of a resort lake and fought off the father’s frantic attempts to wrest the toddler from its mouth, officials said Wednesday.
A search and rescue operation was launched after the attack Tuesday night at the Grand Floridian hotel not far from the Magic Kingdom was ongoing, but police said they held out little hope the boy would be found alive.
“We are keeping some hope alive, but it is looking more grave every moment, every hour,” Orange County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jeff Williamson told AFP.
The mauling was yet more terrible news for a vacation town still reeling from the weekend shooting massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in downtown Orlando – the worst mass shooting in American history. Another 53 were wounded.
“We determined this two-year-old child was playing at the edge of the water, a foot [30 centimeters] or so into the water, when this alligator came up and attacked the child,” Sheriff Jerry Demings told a sunrise news conference.
“The father did his best, tried to rescue the child – however, to no avail.”
The child belonged to a family of five from the Midwestern state of Nebraska that was relaxing on the shore of the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon at the hotel, Demings said.
The alligator emerged and snatched the boy around 9:00 pm Tuesday.
The Grand Floridian is part of the massive Disney resort complex that includes several theme parks, water parks, hotels and golf courses.
Rescuers used sonar and floodlights overnight to pursue their search, as a helicopter hovered overhead. Firefighters stood on the water’s edge with infrared cameras scanning the water for the child.
“We are very hopeful, hoping for the best,” Demings said at the early morning news conference. “Sometimes you get the worst, but we’re certainly hoping for the best.”
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.
There was a no swimming sign at the lake, but no warning about alligators, he added.
“Everyone here at the Walt Disney World Resort is devastated by this tragic accident,” Disney communications executive Jacquee Wahler said.
“We are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist law enforcement.”