(MOORE HAVEN, Fla.) — A Florida teenager who came face-to-snout with a 10-foot alligator made a split-second choice that likely saved his life, but cost him his arm.
Kaleb Langdale, 17, really showed his courage when he smiled and joked through the pain and loss of his right arm.
Langdale was swimming with his friends in the Caloosahatchee River in Moore Haven, Fla., on Monday when temperatures were hitting triple digits.
“He was swimming with some friends in the river, which they do frequently,” Langdale’s aunt LaDawn Hayes told ABC News. “It’s a very rural community with nowhere in the town for these kids to go. There’s no city pool, so this is the only choice on 100 degree day.”
While the boys were swimming, one friend yelled, “There’s a gator!”
“Kaleb turned around to look [at his friend] and turned back and there was a gator a few feet away coming straight at him,” Hayes said. The alligator was later measured at about 10 feet.
His friends said that from the riverbank, all they could see was a lot of splashing.
“The gator went down and Kaleb went down,” Hayes said. “He grabbed the gator underneath his bottom jaw, on that skin, and had pretty good control until the tail came around and slapped him in the back. At that point, his hand broke loose from the gator’s jaw.”
And, in that moment, Langdale told his aunt he made a difficult decision that probably saved his life.
Hayes said he thought to himself, “It’s either my life or my arm, and the arm was just kind of out there.”
The gator chomped down on the lower half of his arm and Langdale saw an opportunity to get away.
“The gator took the arm. He felt the bones break, felt everything kind of go and made a choice at that point that it was either his arm or his life,” Hayes said. “So he took his feet and pushed as hard as he could push until his arm broke free.”
Langdale swam for the riverbank opposite where his friends were standing, since it was closer, and climbed out on his own. He yelled to his friends that he had lost his arm and told them to call for help.
“He pinched his arm between his legs and waited for paramedics to get there,” Hayes said. “By the time his mom got there, the paramedics just stopped her and said, ‘He’s fine. He’s joking. He’s talking and he’s a trooper, but he’s lost part of his arm.'”
Langdale had lost the lower half of his right arm, below the elbow.
While Langdale was being taken care of in the hospital, authorities managed to track down and kill the alligator.
Langdale underwent surgery to close up his wounds, but not before asking Hayes to snap a photo of him in the trauma unit and post it on Facebook.
“You’re on your pain meds, I’m not going to do that,” Hayes told him. But he insisted, telling her, “Let everyone know I’m okay and I can still drive my airboat. Let them know it was my right arm and not my left.”
“He’s really doing awesome,” Hayes said. “His attitude has been absolutely wonderful. He’s always had a very good outlook on life, so if he can find a way to joke about it, he’ll joke about it. And he’s found a way to do that so far.”
Langdale has been in good spirits and is in the hospital where the family is taking things “one day at a time,” Hayes said. His surgery to close his wounds was successful, but the family does not yet know when Langdale will leave the hospital.
“He’s really been very mellow about the whole thing, very himself,” Hayes said. “You just don’t realize how amazing he is until something like this happens and then all those years of smart-butt comments and jokes make sense.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul R. La Monica, CNN
Sara Israelsen-Hartley, Deseret News
Ben Winslow, CNN
Heather Kelly, CNN