Tourist with Phoenix ties who was killed by an elephant in Zambia was an adventurer, family says

Apr 5, 2024, 6:00 PM

An elephant charged and killed a woman who split time between Minneapolis and Phoenix. (Pexels phot...

An elephant charged and killed a woman who split time between Minneapolis and Phoenix. (Pexels photo)

(Pexels photo)


MINNETONKA, Minn. (AP) — Family members described an American tourist who was killed in Africa when a bull elephant charged the truck she was riding in as an adventurer who loved to travel.

They identified her as Gail Mattson, 79, of Minnetonka, Minnesota. She was with other tourists on a game drive in a Zambian national park when the animal charged, flipping over the vehicle and killing her, a safari company said Thursday. The attack also injured five others on March 30 in Kafue National Park, which at 8,600 square miles (22,400 square kilometers) is one of Africa’s largest animal reserves.

“Sadly she lost her life in a tragic accident while on her dream adventure,” her daughter, Rona Wells, said in a Facebook post.

Her son, Blake Vetter, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that “this is more than about a little old lady that got killed by an elephant. She lived an extraordinary life” while raising two children by herself.

According to the safari company Wilderness, the “aggressive” bull elephant unexpectedly charged at the truck, which was carrying six guests and a guide on a morning excursion through wild areas.

Vetter told the newspaper his mother loved adventure trips to China and other destinations. She was a mortgage company loan officer before she retired at 55. She split her time between the Minneapolis and Phoenix areas and golfed three to four times a week, he said.

“We were going to skydive when she got back,” Vetter said.

While many wildlife parks in southern Africa teem with dangerous animals like elephants and lions, it’s rare for such a charging attack to occur.

Keith Vincent, CEO of the safari company, said the terrain made it impossible for the vehicle to get away.

“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” he said.


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Tourist with Phoenix ties who was killed by an elephant in Zambia was an adventurer, family says