Alligator Rips Off Fla. Woman's Arm

E N G L E W O O D, Fla., Feb. 25, 2003 -- When Dottie Barnes, 72, found her neighbor in the jaws of an alligator she didn't stop to think — she fought back with every bit of stength she had.

Barnes grabbed her neighbor's ankles began to pull her from the alligator's grip.

"I didn't really think about it," Barnes told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "I don't know where I got the strength," said Barnes.

The huge alligator latched onto Helena Couto, 72, as she was gardening. It got her arm in its jaws and ripped it off as it dragged her toward its pond.

Barnes, who lives near Couto in the the Fiddlers Green condominium complex, tried to drag Couto away from the water as they both screamed for help.

Fighting the Gator

Meanwhile, another of Couto's neighbors, Phil Leahy, heard the screams as he sat by the pool.

He helped Barnes in the rescue by placing palmetto fronds over the gator's eyes. The 8-foot 3-inch reptile backed off and crawled into the pond, but it ripped Couto's arm off at the elbow in the process.

Then, before authorities reached the scene, Brian and Vickie Gangnier, both nurses, came upon the frightening scene as they walked back from their tennis match.

The couple bandaged Couto's severed arm and checked her blood pressure.

"We packed wound dressing on the wound, I constricted it with a couple of tourniquets, packed it in ice," Brian Gangnier said.

As Couto went in and out of consciousness, she asked her neighbors to try to save her arm so she could continue to golf.

Lost Arm

The efforts of Gangnier and the other witnesses saved Couto's life, but doctors couldn't save her arm, which was torn off just above the elbow by the alligator.

Soon after the attack, a Charlotte County sheriff's deputy shot and killed the alligator, which lived in the pond and had been nicknamed "Henry" by some residents, officials said.

Couto, who lives in Englewood, which is about 70 miles south of Tampa, is in fair condition. She's still being treated for her injuries at the Tampa General Hospital.

There have been at least five other attacks by alligators on humans in Florida since last April.