‘People were pinned’: San Antonio Zoo visitor describes chaos after fallen branch left 7 injured

SAN ANTONIO – Screams of fear filled the air and people rushed to help in the moments after a large tree branch fell Wednesday on the spring break crowds at the San Antonio Zoo.

The branch broke off of a cedar elm in the northeast corner of the zoo, just past the Birds of the World area, a few minutes noon on Wednesday. An arborist told KSAT that, judging by its size, the branch could weigh between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds.

Map on San Antonio Zoo shows where tree fell. (San Antonio Zoo/KSAT)

The accident sent seven people to the hospital, including a child who remained in serious condition Thursday morning.

Chris Ryan and his family were visiting from the Houston area and were standing just a few feet away from where the branch fell. There was a sound like firecrackers going off, he said, and he turned in time to see the branch come down.

Dramatic video recorded by Ryan’s wife and stepdaughter shows the ensuing chaos.

“Where’s my baby?! Where’s my baby?!” one woman can be heard screaming while others scramble around the fallen foliage.

Ryan, who can be seen on video in a gray shirt and brown shorts, joined the crowd trying to help free the people caught underneath the branch.

“People were hit. People were pinned. There were — people screamed,” he said.

Ryan helped to get a woman out from underneath the branch as she screamed in concern about her “baby.” He believes the child was brought out shortly thereafter.

Another person nearby was pinned more severely and a different group of people was trying to help. Ryan saw at least one person come out from underneath the tree, bloodied.

Due to the leaves and branches, Ryan didn’t get the full scope of what was happening. He was surprised to later learn seven people had been injured. Initially, he was aware of three people injured.

What Ryan believed were zoo security personnel arrived and started to take control of the scene. He gathered his family and left that area of the zoo, not wanting to be in the way.

Looking back, Ryan said his wife had been underneath the same tree moments earlier to take a picture. Fortunately, she didn’t stay there and missed being injured, too.

“So the appreciation of how fast things can change, you know, is the real takeaway,” Ryan said.

It is not clear yet what caused the branch to fall. Ryan said he had not noticed any gusts of wind before it broke.

A spokeswoman for the San Antonio Zoo emailed a statement from the zoo’s president and CEO to KSAT late Wednesday night. She sent the same statement Thursday afternoon when asked for further updates on the investigation into why the branch had broken.

“On Wednesday, a large tree branch unexpectedly broke and fell at San Antonio Zoo, injuring several guests. Zoo first responders and local emergency crews were on site within minutes to treat those who were injured. We are working with our internal and external professionals to investigate the cause of the breakage to prevent this unusual event from happening again.

The safety of our guests, staff, and animals is always our highest priority. Our gratitude is with the guests, staff, and first responders who assisted during this incident, and our sincerest thoughts and prayers go out to those injured and their families, as well as those who witnessed this accident.”

Tim Morrow – President/CEO, San Antonio Zoo

George Cardenas, an arborist who KSAT interviewed Wednesday, theorized the tree may have been overweight and may have had some decay in the union — the part where the branch and trunk join.

Also on KSAT:

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