Gators 101: How to stay safe
What to do if you encounter these ...
Everglades Boulevard and Alligator Alley
After surviving what could have been a deadly alligator attack Sunday evening, Tim Delano woke up Monday morning with a shocking reminder of that nightmare.
He lost his left hand, but is thankful to still have his life.
“I saw my bone. I had no hand. That was it,” he recalls of his experience immediately after the attack.
Delano, 18 of Golden Gate Estates, was attacked by a 10-foot alligator in a canal just north of Alligator Alley near Everglades Boulevard — a popular swimming hole known as the Crystal.
His new mission, he said, is to have the Crystal closed down to swimmers for good.
Delano was taking a dip with three friends Sunday evening as daylight was draining away, when he was suddenly attacked.
He said he heard a loud cracking sound — the gator clamping down on his left hand — then he was pulled down into the darkening water.
Soon, he realized what was happening. The gator was trying to kill him with a “death roll,” a maneuver in which an alligator drags its victim under water and rolls it over and over until the prey drowns.
“Fortunately, I had enough sense to take my right hand and I started punching it,” he said.
The gator let go, but it took something with it.
Delano swam to the surface and looked at the place where his hand used to be.
“I starting screaming — cursing at the world,” he recalled.
He said the pain was “excruciating.”
He scrambled to shore, he said, then got into his truck with his friends.
Delano, with his bloody arm wrapped, starting dialing 911 as a friend drove him toward civilization. He was miles away from any help.
As he waited for Collier County Emergency Medical Services to respond, he said he also called his mother and left her this message: “Mom, I have no left hand. Goodbye.”
Delano was flown to Lee Memorial Trauma Center and immediately taken into surgery.
Meanwhile, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission sent a tracker to hunt down the attacking alligator.
The tracker brought back the culprit, a 10-foot-2-inch gator, said FWC spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro. She said the tracker likely spotted it based on its description and behavior.
When FWC officers killed the gator, Ferraro said, they found Delano’s severed hand in its stomach.
Doctors told him they would not reattach it, though, because it would be too toxic, Delano said.
Delano, a recent graduate of Palmetto Ridge High School, is now recovering at Lee Memorial.
“I was just happy the other people with me did not get injured,” he said from his hospital bed, “or I’d really hate myself.”
He said he doesn’t know how long his rehabilitation will take.
Monday morning, his injured arm was numb from surgery, he reported. However, by early afternoon, Delano canceled a scheduled media appearance because he was not feeling well.
But Delano said he is now on a mission to clear the waters of swimmers at the Crystal.
“I hope they will shut it down” he said, “so no accidents like this will happen again.”
Delano said he had swum in the Crystal several times before with friends. He had seen families with children in those waters.
“I was told there were no animals where we swam,” he said.
Tracy Cusick, 39, and Chris Kight, 49, parked their van on Monday and set their white plastic chairs underneath a shade tree beside the Crystal, their favorite swimming hole, to enjoy some “tranquility.” Cusick and Kight have been swimming in the Crystal for the past 20 years and said what happened to Delano was a first.
“It was a freak accident,” Kight said.
Although Cusick and Kight were the only mid-afternoon swimmers at the Crystal on Monday, Kight said there were about 75 people there Sunday.
People were listening to music, barbecuing and swimming in the canal, according to the couple.
“It’s just a hangout,” Kight said.
Kight and Cusick said they won’t swim in the Crystal past sunset.
“A gator feeds at night like a shark does,” Kight said.
Cusick and Kight are glad Delano survived, but now they’re worried their favorite swimming hole won’t.
“It would really bother me if they shut it down. There aren’t places to swim,” Tracy said.
If there is a push to ban people from swimming in the Crystal, Kight said he’d start a petition to fight it.
“There will be a lot of people to sign it,” he said. “It’s the last swimming hole we have in Naples.”
Ferraro said people should recognize that any freshwater body in Florida could contain alligators. She said the animals hunt primarily at dawn and dusk.
Since FWC began keeping records in 1948, 333 people have been bitten by unprovoked alligators, with 22 deaths.
“If there is an item there and the opportunity presents itself,” Ferraro said, “they will prey.”
Connect with Aaron Hale at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale