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Sea World President Fired in Probe of Trainer Injury

December 02, 1987|CHRIS KRAUL and GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writers

The president of Sea World was fired Tuesday in the aftermath of an accident that seriously injured a trainer in a killer whale performance

Jan Schultz, a 17-year employee of the aquatic park, was fired shortly after park owner Harcourt Brace Jovanovich announced that he and three other top Sea World executives had been suspended after the Nov. 21 accident.

Whether the other three employees--chief trainer David Butcher, zoological director Lanny Cornell and public relations chief Jackie Hill--lost their jobs as well could not be confirmed late Tuesday.

Trainer John Sillick, 26, was injured when a whale performing a "breach" or arching stunt flipped in the air and landed on Sillick as he rode astride another killer whale. Admitted to UC San Diego Medical Center with several injuries, including a broken pelvis, ribs and upper leg, Sillick was reported in fair condition Tuesday.

Sillick's was the most recent of several injuries that trainers have suffered at the tourist attraction during rehearsals or performances in the last year.

"As president and chief executive officer, I ultimately have to accept responsibility for John Sillick's injury," Schultz said. "But by the same token, I think I'm a scapegoat."

In an announcement Tuesday afternoon by Sea World, HBJ had said only that four employees were suspended but did not name them. The company also said that it had decided to ban trainers from the pools during performances with the huge marine mammals. HBJ owns Sea World, similar parks in Orlando, Cleveland and San Antonio, and various publishing concerns.

The company's announcement had said the employees would remain off the job with pay until new safety measures, some of which were announced by Sea World on Tuesday, are in place. The new measures include the installation of an underwater sonic communication system already used in Sea World's Orlando park to elicit certain "behaviors," or stunts, from the killer whales.

Trainers have not performed in the water with the whales for the last several days.

Officials at Sea World the parent firm had refused to comment on reports that had circulated for two days that top Sea World executives had been suspended until the Tuesday afternoon press release.

HBJ Executive Vice President Peter Jovanovich also declined to comment Tuesday.

Citing Sea World sources, television station KCST said Tuesday that there had been an increase in the number of accidents since two killer whales were brought to San Diego in January from now-defunct Marineland in Rancho Palos Verdes. The television station reported that three trainers had suffered previously undisclosed serious neck injuries.

Schultz acknowledged Tuesday night that Sea World has had "a series of accidents that are more serious than we've had in a short period before," but he said the reasons are still unclear.

Schultz defended the safety of Sea World's aquatic shows.

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