SYDNEY: Australian police searching for a 7-year-old girl feared taken by a crocodile Saturday said finding what appeared to be human remains inside a three-metre reptile was a "heartbreaking" development.
An extensive search began at first light for the girl who was last seen swimming at the natural pool at an outstation about 340 kilometres (210 miles) east of the city of Darwin on Friday afternoon.
The girl was swimming with other children and an adult at the time.
"Witnesses have told police that a crocodile attacked the male adult before pulling the girl under water," Senior Sergeant Shaun Gill said.
"The crocodile is estimated to be about 2-3 metres (6.6-10 feet) in length."
Police searching the waterhole shot dead a three-metre crocodile at the Gumarrirngbang Outstation on Saturday and an examination of the animal revealed what are believed to be human remains in its stomach.
"Further forensic testing will be conducted in Darwin to determine if the remains are human and if found human, the identity of the person," said Gill.
"This is now a matter of investigation and a report will be prepared for the coroner."
An earlier search by police and volunteers on Friday failed to find the child and extra police were flown to the remote area about 100 kilometres from the Aboriginal community of Maningrida.
"Everyone involved in this search has been working under difficult conditions. This is a heartbreaking outcome for the family and the community," said Gill.
Saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to seven metres (23 feet) long and weigh more than a tonne, are a common feature of Australia's tropical north.
They have been protected since the 1970s and their numbers have increased steadily since, along with the number of human encounters.
Crocodiles were reportedly not thought to be present in the area where the girl went missing, and locals had presumed the pool to be safe for swimming.
But Northern Territory Police urged residents and visitors not to become complacent about the predatory reptiles, warning "croc danger is real".
An average of two people are killed each year in Australia by saltwater crocodiles, with one thought responsible for death of a barge captain whose body was found in remote waters in northern Australia in December 2011.
In May 2011, an Australian fisherman was believed taken by a large crocodile while standing in chest-deep water also in the Northern Territory.
The 54-year-old's belongings, including his wallet and fishing rod, were found on Elcho Island, some 515 kilometres (319 miles) east of Darwin.