A father fought in vain to wrestle his two-year-old son from the jaws of an alligator at the Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida, police have said.
A massive search is under way for the missing boy, who was on holiday with his parents and two siblings from Nebraska.
Jerry Demings, Orange County Sheriff, told a 1am press conference how the family, who have not been named, were relaxing in a beach area at the edge of a lake on Tuesday when the alligator struck.
“There is a sandy beach area and the family was out simply relaxing … and in the water along the lake’s edge at the time the alligator attacked the child.
“It’s my understanding the father was there nearby and the child was playing in the water, just a foot or so into the water, and the alligator came up,” he said.
“The father at some point struggled to try to get his son and was not successful and then alerted others to try and assist him in the process.”
“At some point I am told the mother may also have entered the water. The parents diligently tried to get the child,” Demings said.
A lifeguard nearby was alerted to the ordeal. Witnesses to the incident have given detailed accounts to authorities.
The incident happened at the Seven Seas Lagoon adjacent to Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel, where the family had been staying as guests since 12 June. Demings said there are warning signs that say no swimming in the water.
Asked if alligators were known to be in the area, the sheriff replied: “We will be investigating the entire activities here. We have not had any recent reports or complaints about nuisance alligators in the area or any of that. But the investigation will play itself out.
“Disney, I will tell, is completely cooperating with this investigation. Their priority is on recovering the child and assisting this family tonight.”
The size of the alligator was unclear. Demings said he had heard estimates varying from 4ft to 7ft.
The family was on holiday from Nebraska, and the boy was one of three children. The father was believed to have scratched his hand in his attempt to grab his child from the alligator and was currently being assisted by authorities.
As search helicopters circled constantly overhead, some guests gathered in clusters to discuss what had happened and at least one broke down in tears.
Demings said that at about 9.16pm someone called 911 to report that “a two-year-old child had been attacked by an alligator”.
Emergency services responded and there were at least 50 law enforcement personnel searching the lake, hampered by darkness.
They include marine units on boats, an alligator trapper, search helicopters and a dive team on standby.
“Hopefully we will successfully recover the child before daylight,” Demings said, adding: “We’re not leaving without the child.”