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US tourist on safari in Zambia killed by charging elephant

By Jack Guy and Louis Mian, CNN

(CNN) — An elderly American woman was killed in Zambia after an elephant charged at a vehicle carrying tourists in Kafue National Park.

Another woman was injured and was taken to a medical facility in South Africa following the incident, which took place on Saturday, the conservation and hospitality company Wilderness, which was running the trip, said in a statement published Tuesday.

Four other people also suffered minor injuries.

Wilderness Chief Executive Officer Keith Vincent said the vehicle, which was carrying six guests and a guide, was “unexpectedly charged” by a bull elephant during the excursion to view wildlife, known as a game drive.

“Our guides are all extremely well trained and experienced, but sadly in this instance the terrain and vegetation was such that the guide’s route became blocked and he could not move the vehicle out of harm’s way quickly enough,” Vincent said.

“This is a tragic event and we extend our deepest condolences to the family of the guest who died,” he said.

“We are also, naturally, supporting those guests and the guide involved in this distressing incident,” he added.

A helicopter was dispatched to the scene and authorities are investigating.

The deceased woman has since been named as 79-year-old Gail Mattson by her family, correcting the age initially cited by Wilderness.

Mattson’s son, Blake Vetter, told CNN the family heard about Mattson’s passing from the US embassy. According to Vetter, Mattson was a grandmother, and a retired mortgage professional.

“She was loved by everyone, and she was the center of attention,” Vetter said. “I mean she was 79 years old and wanted to spend a month in Africa. She would be the first to understand this could happen. Everyone wants to blame the elephant and driver but no, it was a freak accident.”

Mattson’s daughter, Rona Wells, also posted about her passing on Facebook and called the trip a “dream adventure” for her mother.

“We would like to share some amazing pictures of our wonderful Mom’s trip to South Africa with her friends and family. Sadly, she lost her life in a tragic accident while on her dream adventure,” Wells said.

Zambia is popular with safari travelers thanks to a number of national parks and the quality of its guides.

Kafue is the country’s largest national park and is home to more than 200 animal species. It is known for lion and leopard sightings as well as an incredible diversity of antelope species, many of which are rarely seen elsewhere.

This is not the first time an American tourist has died at the park. In September 2016, Bianca Rudolph was found dead in her hunting cabin after a fatal shotgun blast. Her husband, Lawrence Rudolph, was sentenced last year to life in prison for her killing.

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