Getting attacked by an alligator may be exceptionally rare, but that doesn't make the few stories that emerge every year any less terrifying. Should you find yourself in this horrifying situation, keep in mind a few simple rules: Don't provoke or feed the beasts, and run fast and straight (not, as the old wives' tale suggests, in a zigzag fashion). And while you're at it, steer clear of Florida.
Here, a roundup of the brave few who have battled gators and lived to tell the tale.
1. The courageous dad and the heroic stranger
Earlier this month, 6-year-old Joey Welch and his dad, Joseph, were planning a canoeing outing around the Laxahatchee Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach, Fla. While preparing to head out, Joey fell off the pier and into shallow water. Before Joseph realized what had happened, he heard a scream and saw that an alligator had his son's arm in its massive jaws. The gator tried to drag the boy into the water. Joseph jumped in after his son. He punched the alligator repeatedly in the head, but it still wouldn't release the boy. "He could have squished my son's arm like a cracker!" Joseph said later. Luckily, the commotion got the attention of an onlooker who risked his life by jumping into the water and going at the beast, kicking its underbelly several times. Under the consistent beating, the alligator relented and released little Joey. Miraculously, the boy, who was taken to the hospital, escaped with just a few scrapes and cuts, which was all thanks to the stranger, Joseph said. And because father and son were in such a rush to get to the hospital, they didn't get a chance to get to know their savior. "We don't know who this good Samaritan was, but he's a big hero. Stepping in to help save someone else's child takes courage and compassion."
2. The fearless mom
Lake County, Fla., is no stranger to alligators, and neither is long-time resident Jessica McGregor. "Back in the day, you had these things come up on your land, and you just caught 'em and threw 'em back in the nearest watering hole," she said. It's that kind of attitude and experience that came in handy this past March when an alligator strolled up to a local middle school moments before students were to be let out for the day. McGregor, who is a police officer, spotted the seven-foot beast. Instead of bothering animal control with the problem, she just tapped into her alligator wrangling roots and got to work.The 29-year-old mother of two grabbed a rope, tied a noose on one end, and lassoed the alligator's snout. She dragged it out of the bushes and held on tight while it angrily thrashed around. Eventually the alligator tired itself out and McGregor was able to drop down with her knees behind its front legs, tie it up properly, and take it out of the school yard.
3. The surprised dad
In 2011, David Bostwick and his 7-year-old son were swimming at Wekiva Springs State Park in Orlando, Fla. when an alligator came out of nowhere and attacked Bostwick. "I felt a gator's mouth clamping down on my head," he said. The dad reached up with his free arms, grabbed hold of the alligator's jaws, and pried them open with all of his might. The animal eventually released him, and Bostwick was transported to the hospital where his injuries were treated with 50 stitches and a few staples. "It's the kind of thing you think can never happen to you," he said.
4. The resilient nonagenarian
In 2011, Margaret Webb was walking near her home in Copeland, Fla., when a nearly 8-foot alligator lunged out from a canal and grabbed hold of the 90-year-old. The animal tried to drag her back into the water, but the tough woman managed to hold onto dry land long enough to catch the attention of a stranger, who scared the alligator away. Webb lost part of her leg in the attack and authorities sent a trapper to the area to find the reptile in the hopes of retrieving her leg. Unfortunately, the alligator remains at large.
5. The quick-thinking nudist
In 2001, Dagmar Dow was enjoying a summer day with her family at the Lake Como Nudist Resort in Pasco County, Fla. Dow, her husband, and son were snorkeling in Big Moss Lake when an alligator clasped its jaws on the 43-year-old's foot and arm. Dow screamed and her husband, Ray, tried to yank her above the water's surface as the alligator tried to force her down. The fight only intensified the alligator's attack. But Ray fought back, kicking the alligator in the head several times until it let go. Ray brought his wife to shore, where other nudists applied pressure to Dow's gashes until medics arrived. Dow was said to be in serious, but stable, condition after the attack, which was the resort's first in its 60-year history.
6. The dedicated brothers
Wayne Petteway and his brother Joel were collecting crab pots one Saturday in 2001 in Jacksonville, Fla., when he suddenly heard a splash and turned to see an alligator gunning for him. He tried to run, but the chest-deep water kept him nearly locked in place. The alligator grabbed hold of him as Joel approached and immediately began pounding the animal. But the beast wouldn't give Wayne up, so Joel pulled his brother and the alligator to shore where Joel's wife, Gloria, beat it with a cane stick until it let go. The alligator retreated into the water, leaving Wayne alive but mangled. Wayne endured 17 days of intensive care and seven surgeries. Over time, he managed to regain full use of his right arm and 70 percent of his left.
7. The relentless homeowner
In 1992, Craig DeArmond of French Settlement, La., found a 10-foot alligator ready for a fight underneath his home. For half an hour, DeArmond, 32, fought the reptile until he managed to wriggle free from the muck surrounding his home. But just as he was clawing out of the depths of his property, the alligator lunged out and grabbed his leg and began pulling him back down, dragging him in the direction of the river. DeArmond wasn't about to give up. He did all he could to the animal and eventually freed himself from its mighty grip. DeArmond staggered to a neighbor's house. He was taken to a hospital, where he received some 200 stitches for his wounds.