-- The tragic death of a toddler who was attacked by an alligator at Walt Disney World brought back horrifying memories for a New Hampshire man this week.
Thirty years ago, Paul Santamaria was also attacked by a gator on Disney property.
“It was pretty terrifying at the time,” he told ABC New Hampshire affiliate WMUR.
Santamaria was 8 when he and his family took a trip from Bristol, New Hampshire, to Walt Disney World in 1986. The family stayed at the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.
He recalled being with his siblings at a playground in the resort when he wandered away to feed ducks at a pond. That’s when a gator lurking in the murky water suddenly emerged.
“It came out of the water, knocked me down, grabbed my leg and started to throw me around and try to pull me into the water,” he told WMUR.
As the gator tried to drag Santamaria into the water, he yelled for his older sister and brother.
“My sister grabbed me under the arms and started to have a tug-of-war with this alligator that was, you know, thrashing me around and trying to pull me into the pond,” he told ABC Boston affiliate WCVB. “My brother had started to look for anything he could throw at it or hit with.”
The reptile’s jaws finally opened, and the gator released Santamaria’s leg, allowing him to get away — but not without several lacerations and a gator tooth embedded in his thigh. Santamaria spent a week recovering in an Orlando hospital.
He is now the father of 2-year-old twin girls. When he heard the news that an alligator had dragged a 2-year-old boy into the Seven Seas Lagoon, a man-made lake, he was horrified.
“It sent a chill up my spine,” he told WCVB.
Santamaria, who has visited Disney World since his attack, said he doesn’t blame the boy’s parents.
“It’s just a terrible tragedy,” he said.