RANGERS have started a crocodile cull after a man was dragged under and feared dead by a five-metre saltwater beast while swimming in the Australian outback.
A group of 15 friends who were celebrating at a birthday party watched in horror as the 26-year-old local man was snatched as he swam in the Mary River.
Police said the man had been swimming close to a caravan park in the remote Northern Territory, an area notorious for large crocodiles.
Some of those who witnessed the terrifying attack had to be treated for shock before they were able to give gave statements to police.
Yesterday heavily-armed rangers cruised along the river, shooting every crocodile they encountered.
It is thought the victim had been camping with a large group of friends at the Mary River Wilderness Retreat and Caravan Park about 65 miles east of Darwin.
Northern Territory Police Superintendent Jo Foley said while emergency services were still searching for the man, it had now become a recovery operation.
He said: “A group of them were there on the bank and two were swimming and they saw him being grabbed by the crocodile.
“They’re distraught, it’s a very disturbing sight seeing that happen. The whole area is very well known for crocodiles.”
The last fatal crocodile attack in the Northern Territory was in 2012, when a nine-year-old boy was swimming with a large group of people when he snatched and dragged out to deeper water.
Incredibly, locals had fed the beast with fish and wallaby carcasses for several years, a practice that some described as “a disaster waiting to happen’’.
Three other people, including two children, have been killed by crocodiles since 2009.
Erin Bayard, a staff member at the Wilderness park, said all guests are told not go swimming in the waterways.
She said: “We have signs up and warn all of the guests to stay five metres away from the water’s edge.
“There are crocs in every waterway here and they’re often up to five metres long. It’s a tragedy that this has happened, its very sad.
“This is why we tell our guests to stay away from the water.”
Tourist Eric Linhart said many campers saw the monster crocodile lurking on a bank to the camp earlier in the weekend, adding: “I would never ever go in that water. Why that young man did I don’t know.’’
Scotsman Shaun Kelly said: “You hear stories all the time of people being taken by crocodiles. It’s part of the local folklore.”