Wednesday, October 01, 2008
A VIETNAM veteran on a trip of a lifetime is believed to have been taken by a 6m crocodile on the banks of the Endeavour River north of Cooktown.
Arthur Booker, 63, of Brisbane, disappeared while checking his crab pots at an isolated rainforest campsite, known as Fullers Landing, about 8am yesterday.
His distraught wife Doris launched a full-scale search when she found the crab pot with the rope severed and massive croc skid and claw marks on the riverbank about 10am.
There was no sign of her husband. A brand-new video recorder was abandoned on the riverbank.
Later police found Mr Booker's wristwatch and one of his sandals in the river.
Police and rangers confirmed that particular section of the Endeavour River is the known territory of two monster crocs, Charles and Harriet, both estimated to be about 6m long.
Police, SES and local volunteers yesterday scoured the river by boat searching under logs and submerged tree roots for some sign of the missing man. Crocodiles are known to stash their prey underwater immediately after a deadly ambush.
Police at the scene confirmed Mr Booker is likely to have fallen victim to a "massive" croc.
"Charles is still down there," said local Leanne Rayner, who co-owns the Endeavour River Escape bush camping ground with her husband Terry.
Rangers tagged Charles three years ago when he was 5.2m long. Countless smaller predators also inhabit the right branch of the river, which snakes its way from the coast deep into mangrove and rainforest.
Crocodile warning signs are littered throughout the campsite, a 15km drive north of Cooktown, with signposts urging visitors to be "croc wise".
"There were no other visible signs of violence; he just disappeared," Mrs Rayner said.
She said Mrs Booker was so emotionally upset by her ordeal she was admitted to Cooktown hospital for treatment.
"Nobody knew what to say," said Mrs Rayner. "We searched and searched. She was engulfed in grief. It has all been very upsetting."
Mr Booker, a former soldier with the Ist Armoured Regiment who served in Vietnam, was travelling around Australia with his wife in a caravan.
They were packed up ready to move on to the next destination when tragedy struck.
A fellow camper, asked what happened, said: "He went down to check his crab pots and never came back. They think he was taken by a big croc.
"All they found was some huge skid marks and claw prints in the mud on the riverbank.
"Most likely he's been eaten."
The last fatal crocodile attack in Queensland was in August 2005, at Lakefield National Park, 50km away from the site of yesterday's suspected attack.
Between 1985 and 2007, there were 17 croc attacks in Australia, five of which were fatal.