Furor erupts over Sea World tragedy that touched SC

Orlando SentinelJanuary 25, 2014 

Dawn Brancheau

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

— The top executive at SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s largest shareholder suggested that former SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau should be blamed for her own death, claiming that the veteran animal trainer and University of South Carolina graduate broke multiple safety rules before she was pulled into a tank and killed by a six-ton orca in February 2010.

SeaWorld “had one safety lapse – interestingly, with a situation where the person involved violated all the safety rules that we had,” Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive officer of private-equity giant Blackstone Group, said in an interview Thursday on CNBC.

Blackstone said in a written statement that Schwarzman “misspoke” in response to a question about “Blackfish,” the controversial documentary that examines Brancheau’s death and killer-whale captivity. The firm said its chief executive had not anticipated a question about the film and had not been briefed on the subject.

“In answering a CNBC question (yesterday) morning on the film `Blackfish,’ Blackstone chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman misspoke on the details of the death of SeaWorld killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau,” Blackstone said in its statement. “Mr. Schwarzman was unaware of the precise circumstances of the incident, which occurred nearly four years ago, and his comments did not accurately reflect the facts of the accident or SeaWorld’s longstanding position on it.”

The firm said Schwarzman does not plan to go back on CNBC to correct the record on air.

Schwarzman’s televised comments directly contradicted statements made by SeaWorld’s own management and animal-training staff, who have said that Brancheau followed all appropriate safety protocols and was not to blame in the tragedy.

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