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Thursday, February 21, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Playing Whales Kill Trainer Before Shocked Crowd

AP

OAK BAY, B.C. - Three killer whales dragged a trainer to her death before horrified visitors yesterday after a show at a theme park here.

Keltie Lee Byrne, 23, had ridden on the back of one of the whales during the exhibition at Sealand of the Pacific, near Victoria, and later fell into the water as she walked along the edge of the whale pool.

But as she was being helped out, said witness Nadine Kallen of Calgary, one of the whales grabbed her foot and pulled her back into the water.

For the next 10 minutes, the whales playfully batted the screaming Byrne about the pool, dragging her underwater, as Sealand employees tried to get her out.

``She went up and down three times,'' said Kallen. ``They almost got her once with the hook pole, but they couldn't; the whales were moving so fast.''

Ten people, including a family with children and grandparents, watched in horror as Byrne was pulled underwater by the whales.

Another witness, however, said it appeared the whales were playing with Byrne, not trying to hurt her.

``They were very gentle,'' said Corinne Cowell. ``They were just attracted to another object in the water.''

Byrne, of Victoria, had been a part-time employee at Sealand for the past 18 months.

``It was just a tragic accident,'' said Sealand manager Al Bolz. ``I just can't explain it. The whales were just playing. We feel she

drowned.''

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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