A Utah reptile center employee nearly lost a limb after an alligator yanked her into its enclosure during a presentation at child's birthday celebration on Saturday, thrashing her around before a fast-acting visitor leapt inside and helped free her from its jaws.
Dramatic video taken by a guest at Scales & Tails Utah, in suburban Salt Lake City, shows handler Lindsay Bull talking to some adults and children about the alligator when it bit the 31-year-old's hand and dragged her into the water.
"He really bit down and that's when I realized like, 'Ok, this is going to be serious,'" Bull told NBC's Kerry Sanders in a video interview from her hospital bed.
After pulling the handler into its pen, the alligator, named "Darth Gator," began whipping around and kept its jaws clamped on her as she struggled to break free.
U.S. & World
The day's top national and international news.
One of the guests, later identified as Donnie Wiseman, yelled “We've got trouble in here!” before jumping into the water and climbing on top of the reptile.
"I knew that if I didn't get in there and get on top of this animal he was going to tear her arm off," Weisman told Sanders in a video interview.
Another bystander ushered the children away as they cried, the video showed.
Wiseman got the alligator pinned, and the handler calmly gave him and another man, Todd Christopher, instructions to help her escape from the pool. Wiseman stayed on top of the reptile until after the woman was free before making a clean getaway from the enclosure.
Christopher's wife, who has a background in nursing, then began performing first aid before emergency crews arrived.
Bulls called Wiseman a "hero" for "having done what he did."
Shane Richins, the company's owner, said the handler underwent surgery and is taking antibiotics. The West Valley City business said Sunday she is “doing well and is in recovery.” According to its website, Scales & Tails Utah is a family-run operation that provides educational presentations on reptiles, birds, spiders and scorpions.
It also hailed the visitors who rushed to the handler's aid.
“These gentlemen could have stayed in the safety zone as most of us would, but instead jumped into the situation, of their own volition, and helped secure the alligator,” the company said in a statement. “Their help, combined with the training of our staff member, probably saved her life and her limbs.”
Richins said in an interview Monday that the handler was opening the enclosure to feed the alligator as usual, but this time the reptile “got a little extra spunky.”
He said the center normally has a strict policy for a second handler to be nearby when employees are working with the alligators. But that hasn't been enforced in recent years if the worker isn't planning to enter the enclosure, he said.
"We still enforce it strictly whenever somebody gets in with the gator but, of course, going forward, we will be back to strictly enforcing it with any interactions with the gator for that very reason,” Richins said.
Wiseman told NBC she didn’t want people to think the gator was a “mindless killing machine,” and blamed herself for the attack.
“What happened was an accident,” Bull said. “I’m so much more to blame than Darth Gator.”