POSTED: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 1:30pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 1:34pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — A Florida airboat captain lost his hand after an alligator bit it off Tuesday, according to officers with Florida Fish and Wildlife.
Officials we spoke to say the victim, 63-year-old Wallace Weatherholt, works for Captain Doug's Everglades Tours in Everglades City.
An FWC spokesperson says Weatherholt put six other people's lives in danger when the attack happened just before 4 p.m.
Witness Judy Chroniak-Hatt says Weatherholt was hanging a fish over the side of the boat, and the nine-foot alligator jumped up and grabbed it, then went back into the water.
The gator jumped up again, this time getting its two front feet inside the boat, according to Chroniak-Hatt.
She said she thought the reptile was going to tip the boat, which was carrying herself, two other women, two young children and Weatherholt.
She says the guide lost his hand when he was patting the water, trying to get the alligator to come up again.
Chroniak-Hatt said Weatherholt stayed calm while they waited for help to arrive.
FWC crews caught and killed the alligator, then retrieved Weatherholt's hand from the animal's stomach.
The hand was sent to Naples Community Hospital, where Weatherholt was taken, but there's no information on whether surgeons were able to reattach the hand.
FWC says this unfortunate incident is a reminder of why it is illegal to touch, harass or feed alligators.
"I was kind of freaked out about that because that's kind of weird," said Everglades City resident Sarah Goff. "You don't feed them. They can get used to that and get aggressive."
Weatherholt could be charged with second degree misdemeanor and face up to six months in jail if found guilty.
Locals who say they know the victim told us he is a very kind man.
"He was a nice guy and I'm really sorry for what happened to him," said Olga Pereira.
Chroniak-Hatt, who is visiting from Indiana, said she would not be going on any more airboat tours.