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Video: Teen who lost arm to gator: ‘Happy I’m still alive’

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TODAY contributor
updated 7/11/2012 9:30:42 AM ET 2012-07-11T13:30:42

With his right arm trapped in the jaws of a 10-foot alligator, a Florida teen came to a chilling realization as the animal tried to yank him to the bottom of the river.

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“He started pulling me down, and I knew I either got to lose this arm or I'm gonna die,’’ Kaleb “Fred” Langdale told NBC News.

Langdale, 17, lost his right arm below the elbow Monday after a lazy day of swimming with friends in the Caloosahatchee River in Moore Haven, Fla., nearly turned deadly. After the alligator clamped on his right arm as he tried to swim away, Langdale did his best to mimic what he has seen professional gator trappers do on reality television in order to escape.

“I took my left hand and grabbed that skin underneath him to try to control him, and he just kept going,’’ Langdale told NBC News. “I pulled his head up and I wrapped my legs around him and he just went and dove.’’

Though the alligator had torn off a part of Langdale’s right arm, he was able to summon the energy to swim back to shore. He put his ravaged arm between his legs to stop the bleeding before rescue workers arrived. In the aftermath of the ordeal, Langdale remarkably maintains a positive outlook.

“I'm just happy that I'm still alive, (and) my buddies are still alive,’’ he told NBC News. “I could care less about my arm.”

“He never has a bad outlook on anything,’’ said his mother, Felinda Langdale. “He told me 'it's OK that it was my right arm because I drive my airboat with my left arm.'"

Langdale and his friends did not have enough money to gas up their boat on Monday, so they decided to take a swim in the river. Langdale said the alligators usually don’t come near swimmers, but he acknowledged that the river is full of them. Many residents of Moore Haven learn to swim by going in the Caloosahatchee River, an official with Moore Haven Code Enforcement told WBBH-TV in Fort Myers.

“You can’t go 10 feet without seeing a gator,’’ Langdale told WBBH.

Story: Florida teenager loses part of arm

Langdale said he's grateful that he was the one attacked.

“I'm glad he chose me instead of one of my friends because I don't think they would have done the same thing and got out of it,’’ Langdale said.

The alligator had previously been tagged as a nuisance and was scheduled to be captured later that afternoon. Had Lawndale and his friends waited a few more hours to go into the water, the animal may have already been removed. Langdale’s arm was pulled from the gator's stomach after it was killed by a trapper, but the limb could not be re-attached.

Langdale, who is undergoing surgery Wednesday, is recovering at the Lee Memorial Hospital.

“I feel like I got my arm bit off,’’ Langdale joked after a nurse asked him how he felt.

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The attack on Langdale was a rare event, as there have been only 335 attacks and 22 deaths in the last 64 years in Florida. Currently, it's mating season for alligators, which experts say is the most dangerous time to encounter one.

“It’s not a controlled environment like Disneyland or something like that,’’ Jeff Ardelean of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told NBC News. “It’s not a theme park. This is wild Florida.’’

Langdale’s mother was not surprised that the youngest of her three sons took a dip in a river teeming with alligators.

“I was shocked, but it's almost like I expected it at some point,’’ she told WBBH. “Not necessarily the alligator part — but something happening to Fred.’’

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Langdale’s ordeal has shaken his friends and town residents, who regularly seek refuge from the heat by taking a dip in the river.

"Everybody is scared because it is something real that happened,’’ friend Matt Baker told WBBH. “You see it in the movies. ‘Oh he got his hand bit off.’ But it's like - that fear factor that it actually happened.’’

However, those who know Langdale predict that he will jump right back in the Caloosahatchee River when he gets a chance.

"Yeah, that's a guarantee,’’ Baker told WBBH. “Once Fred gets out of the hospital, he'll be the first one in and everyone else will get back in.’’

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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