Teen takes loss of arm to gator in stride
Pink gauze covered the stump where his arm hung a few hours earlier, but Kaleb "Fred" Langdale, managed a weak smile and asked his aunt to snap a photo before he underwent surgery to repair the damage.
Fred's request to his aunt, LaDawn Hayes: Post the photo to Facebook so his friends can see he's OK.
It appeared the 17-year-old was taking the trauma in stride. He lost the lower portion of his right arm to an alligator while swimming with friends Monday afternoon in the Caloosahatchee River in southern Florida.
"I walked in (to his hospital room) and he told me, 'Well, it looks like you're not gonna be the only left-handed person in the family,'" sister Rebecca Langdale said.
"He's making jokes," she said. "The first thing he told my mom when she arrived on the scene was, 'At least it didn't get my (left) arm. I can still drive my airboat, because the airboat is powered with the left.'"
Hayes said her nephew and friends were swimming in the river, as area kids often do, when they noticed the alligator, estimated to be about 11 feet long.
"They started yelling, 'alligator,' which usually is a joke, but he looked up and there was one in front of him," she said. "He reached up and grabbed the alligator underneath its bottom jaw, by his skin, and the alligator, of course, pulled him down."
Rebecca Langdale said her brother had seen the move "a million times" on TV, and Hayes pointed out it was probably from watching the National Geographic show Swamp Men.
The alligator pulled him under, then started to surface again and appeared to grow calm, Hayes said. So her nephew let go and began to swim away, but when he threw his arm behind him, the gator grabbed it and started pulling. At that point, Fred knew he had a choice: his arm or his life. He chose to keep his life, Rebecca Langdale said.
"He knew he was losing (his arm), so he just took his feet, buried his feet in the alligator's head and just pushed so that he could get it free," Hayes said. "Once it popped loose, he just swam as hard and fast as he could to the dock, where some friends of his pulled him up."
The friends applied pressure to the wound and dialed 911.
As Fred was being rushed to the hospital, a frantic search began for the gator -- and the arm inside its belly.
"The whole town is on the river searching for this alligator," Rebecca Langdale said.
Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission caught up with the reptile, killed it and retrieved the arm, said Officer Jorge Pino, the commission's spokesman.
The arm was rushed to the hospital, but its condition was too poor for reattachment, Hayes said.
The agency is conducting an investigation. Pino said the area where the bite occurred is known to sometimes have alligators.
"People just need to use common sense," he said. "Any body of water in Florida at one point or another will have an alligator in it."
A similar incident happened last month when Everglades airboat captain Wallace Weatherholt had his hand bitten off by an alligator while allegedly feeding the animal, Pino said.
"Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency, in some instances, not to do the right thing," he said.
Although Fred Langdale's family said he was not provoking the alligator, they said he does have a tendency to get hurt, which has given him plenty of experience dealing with injuries.
"He's very accident-prone," Hayes said. "He's had multiple broken bones, (a) car wreck not long ago, but he just always finds a positive in it, and he can always joke about it. That's his personality."
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