One Florida man’s quick thinking saved his life and limbs after an 8-foot gator grabbed hold of him and tried to drag him into the water.
On Sept. 13, Marine veteran Mark Johnson was out walking his 8-year-old golden retriever by the canal in Port St. Lucile when his foot got stuck in the mud. He had just shouted to his dog Rex to get home, and the dog readily complied.
As he tried to pry his Croc sandal free and follow his dog home, Johnson saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye.
A moment later, a huge gator lunged at him, clamping down on his right leg.
The powerful reptile dragged him toward the water, but veteran Mark Johnson didn’t hesitate to defend himself. Thanks to his Marine training, he responded by digging both of his index fingers into the gator’s eyes, causing the gator to open up its mouth.
“This was scary,” he told TC Palm. “I was cussing the gator out saying, ‘You’re not going to get me into the water.’”
Fortunately, Johnson managed to pull free, and the alligator swam away.
Bleeding and limping, Johnson made it home, where his wife cleaned the wound, wrapped it in a towel, and drove him to the medical center. Johnson suffered 12 puncture wounds and received 60 stitches on his leg, and another 5 stitches where he cut his finger on the gator’s eye socket.
Aside from the stitches, Johnson was lucky to escape with his limbs mostly intact.
As a longtime Florida resident, Johnson is used to seeing gators in the area. He said the last thing he expected was for an alligator to lunge out of the water toward him. He told the news outlet, “I’ve always thought I had a greater chance of encountering a rattlesnake on my morning walks.”
Shortly after the incident, the Johnsons’ neighbors, the Challenors, called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
However, after arriving at the scene, the FWC’s contracted nuisance trapper was unable to locate the alligator.
“The trapper did tell me I was lucky,” Johnson told USA Today. “He said the fingers to the eye socket trick doesn’t always work.”
The Johnsons and Challenors know that catching the gator wouldn’t make much difference.
“You take one out and 10 more come along,” Jerry Challenor said. “This is a swamp. We built our houses in Florida in it, in the alligators’ home.”
Johnson told Patch News that the image of this incident is forever burned into his memory. “I can see it right now. I see my foot. I see the gator. I see the position—his eyes. He had green eyes. The teeth were pearly white, no stain or anything.”
Eventually, Johnson does plan to resume his habitual walks. But from now on, he plans to carry a weapon for protection.
A local wildlife painter, Johnson told Patch that he already purchased a canvas and plans to use the alligator as his next art subject.
The work will serve as a striking reminder to be careful around the water.
“It’s important for people to understand how dangerous alligators are,” Johnson told USA Today. “If I had been a small child or pet, I wouldn’t have had a chance.”
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