A man seriously injured in an attack by a 12ft-long alligator in an incident captured by drone has told how he grabbed the creature’s teeth, tongue and snout and was ‘miraculously’ able to roll the animal.
JC La Verde, 34, said his head and torso ended up in the reptile’s mouth as it bit it before it could push it away and run away.
Footage showed him unknowingly swimming towards the alligator coming the other way in Lake Thonotosassa near Tampa, Florida.
His work colleague was filming him at the time above the lake for a promotional video for an adventure race and filmed the terrifying attack.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr La Verde, a firefighter, said: “I couldn’t see him (the alligator). I hit him directly with my head. He cut my head off , shoulder blade and upper torso.”
He said the impact was like “hitting a brick wall”.
He said: “I felt the scales, I felt the teeth. I immediately knew what I was in. There was no doubt where I was.”
Mr La Verde, who is an ‘above average’ swimmer, said: ‘He collapsed, puncturing my skull and destroying my jaw, dislocating it on both sides, and in the middle he broke it in two.”
It’s “crushing that I survived this thing” because “it tried to kill me”.
“I knew I was going to get out of the situation and I knew I had to act,” he added.
“We rolled to the right. I actually thought he rolled me, but if he rolled me, I think I would have felt my whole body shaking and I didn’t.
“So I was in his mouth. I was grabbing him with both hands, I was grabbing his teeth, and with my right hand I was grabbing part of his tongue as well. I know I felt gums that were soft and hard .”
“By doing this, I miraculously managed to transform him.”
Mr La Verde said he has since seen the video around 40 times.
He said there were two reasons he let him go: “I didn’t become submissive, and I grabbed his muzzle and was playing with the inside of his mouth as well.”
“I was confused – but it was probably even more confused about what was going on, and probably how quickly I did it.”
“We rolled and then he let go and I kept swimming,” and he was able to get up to safe ground on a nearby dock.
He was helped by good Samaritans who helped him before the ambulance arrived and he was taken to hospital.
It is believed the alligator was trying to protect its nearby nest when the attack happened on August 3.
The animal is since believed to have been captured by the owner of a nearby property during “alligator season”, meaning its capture was legal.
Mr La Verde spent 10 days in hospital after undergoing facial and jaw reconstruction surgery and a craniotomy, with doctors removing part of his right temporal lobe which had been punctured by a fractured bone from his skull crack.
His emergency surgery lasted six hours and will need a few more surgeries in the future. He now has to wear a helmet to protect the right side of his head.
His wife Christine told Sky News she thought the episode was “terrifying” and found out what happened on Facebook.
She said seeing her husband in hospital after suffering the trauma was “very overwhelming” and “shocking”.
She added that he was “progressing well”.