Photo courtesy of the Langdale family
MOORE HAVEN, Fla. -- Pink gauze wrapping the stump where his arm hung just a few hours before, Kaleb "Fred" Langdale 17, managed a weak smile and asked his aunt to snap a quick photo with her iPhone 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 soon-to-be senior at Moore Haven Junior-Senior High School - who lost the lower portion of his right arm to an alligator while swimming in the Caloosahatchee River with friends Monday afternoon - was taking the traumatic incident in stride.
"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," Rebecca 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 Fred and his friends were swimming in the river, as area kids often do, when they noticed the gator, 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 at that point."
Rebecca 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, Hayes said, then started to surface again and appeared to grow calm. So he 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, Rebecca said, Fred knew he was faced with a choice: his arm or his life. He chose to keep his life.
"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 Lee Memorial Hospital, a frantic search began for the gator - and the arm inside the creature's belly.
Around 6 p.m., officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission caught up with the reptile, killed it and retrieved the arm, said FWC spokesman Officer Jorge Pino. The appendage was then rushed to the hospital.
"Every effort was made to try to get the arm there in time to help in any way," Pino said. Hayes said late Monday night the arm was in too poor a condition for reattachment.
Pino said the agency is conducting an investigation into the incident to determine how it happened.
The area where the attack occurred is known to be visited by alligators, he said.
"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."
The most recent similar incident, he said, occurred last month when Everglades airboat captain Wallace Weatherholt had his hand bitten off by an alligator while allegedly feeding the animal.
"Unfortunately human beings have a tendency, in some instances, not to do the right thing," he said.
While Fred's family said he was not provoking the alligator, they noted 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."