Human remains have been found in a flooded creek near where an 11-year-old girl is feared to have been snatched by a crocodile.
Heavily armed police made the grisly discovery after scouring Lambells Lagoon, on the outskirts of Darwin, where witnesses saw a crocodile\’s tail slap the water seconds before the girl disappeared on Sunday.
Superintendent Michael Murphy said the body parts would be identified by DNA testing.
“No specifics will be given in relation to the trauma or the type of evidence located out of respect for the family,” he said, adding that he could not “begin to understand the emotions they are encountering”.
Up to 10 officers had spent 12 hours wading through chest-deep water in difficult and overgrown terrain in their grim hunt for a body or a deadly reptilian predator.
“Obviously it\’s a tragic incident and the family are very upset by it,” Superintendent Murphy said earlier as police confirmed the discovery of the girl\’s shorts.
“We\’re treating it as a worst-case scenario.”
The girl was with her seven-year-old sister and two other children aged 10 and 12 when she disappeared in an area known as Black Jungle Swamp late on Sunday afternoon.
“One of the children… got into difficulty in the water and as the others swam towards her, one of them (saw) what they believed to be a crocodile tail slap the water near the girl,” Superintendent Rob Farmer said.
“She\’s then gone under the surface and was not seen again,” Farmer told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Search called off
The girl\’s friends told police they saw the head and tail of a crocodile splash in the water moments before their friend disappeared for the last time.
They ran to a nearby house and raised the alarm. Police and emergency services cordoned off the area and launched a search.
The hunt in the marshy and difficult terrain was called off after dark on Sunday for safety reasons before resuming early on Monday.
Despite the dense vegetation and murky water, police discovered a pair of board shorts about 70 metres downstream from where the missing girl was swimming on Monday afternoon.
A few hours later they found human remains 450 metres from the site. The crime scene has now been closed and NT police are preparing a file for the coroner.
The surviving children were badly traumatised by the incident, according to Superintendent Murphy.
“They are very upset, as you could understand,” he said.
“This is very hard-hitting for the local community and it\’s hard-hitting for the Northern Territory and the rest of Australia – the loss of a young girl is a very tragic event.”
An average of two people a year are killed in Australia by saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to seven metres long and weigh more than a tonne.
The Northern Territory has a large crocodile population that thrives in the vast network of rivers and lakes that criss-cross the region.
The girl is the second young crocodile victim this year. In February, five-year-old Jeremy Doble died in the far north Queensland Daintree River after he followed his dog into the water.
Local Michael Dobrobitch, who lives off the red dirt road that runs to the swamp, said it was unusual for saltwater crocodiles to come so far inland.
“(But) if they are breeding or hungry, and they can pick up a scent in the creek, or they get caught coming through the current, then the salties will venture into the freshwater,” he said.
Mr Dobrobitch said kids were known to swim in the waterway, despite the fact it is a closed park with permits only usually granted for scientific studies.
“If you come from the town you\’d be more scared of the grass and snakes and dingoes and crocodiles … but being bush children it\’s just second nature to go into the bush and into the creek,” Mr Dobrobitch said.
“You can get killed by a car or you can get taken by a croc or you can get run down by a buffalo. Anything can happen and that\’s the chance you take.”