Tourist killed by crocodile during Outback swim

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 12:00am

Police are investigating the death of a young German tourist killed by a four-metre crocodile at a picturesque waterhole in Kakadu National Park, in Australia's Northern Territory.

The 24-year-old woman, whose name has not been released, was swimming on Tuesday night with other travellers at a popular camping spot, Sandy Billabong, despite clear signs warning of large, saltwater crocodiles in the area.

One of the group, British backpacker James Rothwell, 24, from Essex, told of the terrifying speed with which the attack took place.

'About 9pm a group of us decided to go swimming,' he said. 'We were about 10 metres out from the shore, all within arm's length of each other and within sight. I felt something hit my leg, then one of the women went under the water. We got out and shone torches on to the water. We saw two red eyes and the outline of a crocodile in the water where we had been swimming.'

After an all-night search, police and national park rangers found the body of the young woman at 7.15am, about 2km from where she was attacked. They were only able to recover the body after harpooning and capturing a crocodile apparently guarding it.

Commander Max Pope, of Northern Territory police, said: 'The wildlife rangers managed to harpoon a four-metre crocodile - at that time it had the deceased person with it.' He said the presence of a second, larger crocodile made it too dangerous for police divers to enter the water so the body was retrieved with ropes.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Territory Tourist Commission said that while there was an accreditation scheme for guides taking tourists into potentially dangerous areas, it was not compulsory.

Although Australia's largest species of crocodile is known as the saltwater crocodile, the animals frequently swim up rivers and live in freshwater pools, where they hunt fish, turtles and waterfowl.

Commander Pope said the backpackers should have heeded signs that warned of the dangers of swimming.

'But I guess you've got to look at the scene - there would have been a full moon over the water, it would have been fairly warm, it would have been inviting. I think that perhaps common sense was pushed over by these factors and they took a risk they shouldn't have taken,' he said.

Kakadu is popular with international tourists for its wetlands, escarpments, bird life and Aboriginal rock art. A three-hour drive east of Darwin, it is 200km from north to south.

There have been five fatal crocodile attacks in the Northern Territory in the past 15 years, the last one in 1997 on the Daly River, south of Darwin.

Earlier this week, another German tourist narrowly escaped with his life after his vehicle broke down on the remote Canning stock route, a 1,800km four-wheel drive track that crosses the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia.

Kim Hardt, 36, was carrying just a litre of water and a packet of biscuits and had started to drink brackish water from a nearby salt lake when he was rescued by other travellers.