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(Photo - Steve Chen/AP)

They will kill today. They killed yesterday. And they will kill tomorrow.”

-Alison Anderson, Former Environment Minister, the Northern Territory, Australia, on the rise of crocodile attacks

 

Introduction

A near perfect killing machine and one of the most feared animals on earth, the crocodile has honed its hunting techniques for 200 million years.

And although its jaws are its weapon, the crocodile’s success depends on patience and its ability to ambush prey.

“A crocodile will stalk a target for hours or even days if necessary, and an 18-foot, 2,000-pound crocodile can hide in two feet of water and never give itself away,” says Rob Carmichael, a reptile expert and founder of the Wildlife Discovery Center in Chicago.

“You can be close to shore and think you’re safe,” continues Carmichael. “But you’ll never see the attack coming. The crocodile explodes from the water, takes you under and you’re gone. It’s over in seconds.”

There are 23 species of crocodiles, including the Nile – found in Africa and Madagascar – and the saltwater or estuarine crocodile – found in West Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania and Australia.

Both are notorious man-eaters.

The Nile croc can reach a maximum size of 20 feet and weigh up to 1,650 pounds.

A large Nile croc moments before a kill on the infamous Mara River in Kenya. The stunning image was captured by Vaclav Silha, a Czech wildlife photographer.

 

The saltwater croc can reach 23 feet in length, weigh 3,000 pounds and exert a bite force of 5,000 pounds per square inch, compared to 400 pounds per square inch for a large great white shark.

A 17.9-foot saltwater croc weighing well over 2,000 pounds. Photo by Adam Britton - crocodilian.com.

 

Combined, Nile and saltwater crocodiles account for hundreds of deaths each year including the five extraordinary and heartbreaking attacks featured in this five-part story.

The details of the attacks are based on original interviews, newspaper stories, press conferences, police reports, court transcripts and the book Crocodile Attack in Australia (Swan Publishing 1988) by Hugh Edwards.

The victims, who range in age from 5 to 68, include two Americans, two Australians and one German.

“All of these attacks are absolutely horrific,” Carmichael says. “But as gruesome as they are, they’re not really the crocodile’s fault. The attacks are the result of people putting themselves in bad situations. The crocodile is just doing what it is engineered and wired to do. And it does it very well.”

 

1. 22 Hours In Hell

It was Sunday afternoon, Dec. 21, 2003.

Brett Mann, a 22-year-old mechanic, and two of his buddies, Ashley McGough and Shaun Blowers, both 19, were enjoying the beautiful outdoors.

The three men were riding 4-wheel ATVs in a flooded tropical wilderness about 50 miles southwest of Darwin, their hometown located on the northern border of Australia.

The childhood friends knew this piece of paradise well. They often visited to escape the monotony of city life.

Covered in mud, they decided to clean up on the banks of the fast-moving Finniss River before heading home. It was 4:30 p.m.

“We went down to the river and just had a bit of a bath, washing all our clothes and boots,” Shaun said later at a press conference. “Brett went out just a little bit farther and was washed away. We both jumped in and swam after him.”

After traveling in the current for more than half a mile, the trio searched for land. But a new problem developed.

“Ashley yelled out, ‘Croc! Croc! I’m not joking, there’s a croc. Head for a tree! Get out of the water!’” Shaun said at a press conference later.

“I didn’t see a croc, but swam to the nearest tree and climbed up into the first fork,” Shaun continued. ”I helped pull Ashley up into the same tree. I didn’t see Brett anywhere or hear him call out. I didn’t hear a call or a splash or anything.

“It wasn’t very long after we got into the tree, maybe two minutes later, that I saw a croc pop up with Brett in his jaws,” Shaun continued. “Brett wasn’t moving, he was lying face-down in the water and the croc was gripping him by the left shoulder…It went under the water with Brett and swam away. I did not see Brett again.”

About five minutes later, the “big, black and aggressive” crocodile returned to the base of the tree and stayed. Sometimes it surfaced. And its menacing grin sent a wave of terror through its two human prey – trapped, just out of reach.

As day turned into night and the temperature dropped, it was apparent the large reptile was waging a war of attrition that it had no intention of losing.

However, Shaun and Ashley, still in shock from seeing their friend in the jaws of this monster, were just as determined as their 13-foot adversary. They literally hung in there.

“Because we couldn’t see each other, because it was dark, I had my hand on Ashley’s foot,” Shaun said in a police statement. “Whenever we moved, we’d say, ‘I’m moving’, and just check in on each other and make sure we weren’t going to sleep. We were worn out from hanging on to the little tree, [which] was swaying all night because there was a lot of wind and rain.”

The two spent 22 hours clinging to that small tree in cold, dark and wet conditions while the killer saltwater croc waited patiently, just 15 feet below.

Finally, around 2:30 p.m. the next day, their nightmare was over. A search team found Shaun and Ashley and lifted them to safety by helicopter.

They had lost a battle, but won the war.

Despite an extensive search, Brett Mann and the crocodile were never seen again.

***

Brett Mann, 22, was eaten by a 13-foot saltwater crocodile on Dec. 21, 2003 in the Finniss River located in the Northern Territory, Australia.

 

Ashley McGough, left, and Shaun Blowers, at a Dec. 23, 2003 press conference in Darwin, Australia. (Photo by David Hancock - GalleryTwoSix.com)

 

A large black saltwater crocodile that fits the description of the reptile that killed Brett Mann on Dec. 21, 2003 in the Finniss River located in the Northern Territory, Australia. The view of the croc is similar to the view that Ashley McGough and Shaun Blowers had when the pair spent 22 hours clinging to a submerged tree only 15 feet above the water while being stalked by the animal that ate their friend. (Photo by Jon Loman - Rana.se.)

 

The Finniss River site where a 13-foot saltwater crocodile seized Brett Mann. His two friends, Ashley McGough and Shaun Blowers spent 22 hours in the front tree marked with a ribbon as the killer crocodile waited patiently below. Two movies, Rogue and Black Water, were made about the ordeal. (Newspix)

 

Police on quad bikes searching the Finnis River area after a 13-foot saltwater crocodile killed Brett Mann. Shaun Blowers and Ashley McGough watched as the croc took their friend and then showed off his body as it circled the tree they clung to for 22 hours. (Newspix)

 

Wildlife officers holding high-powered weapons in the search for the croc that killed Brett Mann. (Newspix)


-End-

 

The exclusive five-part feature, Eaten Alive: Five Killer Croc Attacks, continues with Part Two: “Back Against The Wall,” the story of an American model who makes a split-second decision that determines the fate of two lives.

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