Rescuers Describe Dramatic Save of Florida Woman Who Lost Arm to Alligator

Kayakers came to a woman's rescue.

August 11, 2015, 11:11 AM

— -- A 37-year-old Orlando, Florida, woman is recovering from surgery today after an alligator, weighing over 300 pounds, bit her arm off this weekend, according to wildlife officials.

Rachael Lilienthal was swimming up the Wekiva River away from a crowded beach area Saturday, when she was attacked by the alligator, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wrote in a statement. As she struggled against the gator, kayakers came to her rescue, the agency added.

Kayaker Casey Spencer told ABC affiliate WFTV in Orlando that he and his girlfriend were nearby and rushed to help her after they heard Lilienthal pleading for help.

"My girlfriend is freaking out, asking everybody for help, so my initial response is to start hitting [the gator] with the paddle, trying to hit its eyes," Spencer said.

Canoeist Joshua Helwig told WFTV that he and his girlfriend were canoeing on the river when he heard Lilienthal's screams and found a group in kayaks trying to pull Lilienthal out of the water.

"I looked down and that's when I saw the water all around us was just red," Helwig, 19, said.

He explained that the group was able to get Lilienthal into his canoe without flipping their own boats.

"That's when I saw her arm had been bit off right about here," Helwig said, pointing to an area above his elbow. He added that the group then paddled as fast as they could to emergency personnel who had arrived.

PHOTO: A woman was attacked by an alligator in the Wekiva River in Seminole County, Fla. on Aug. 8, 2015.
A woman was attacked by an alligator in the Wekiva River in Seminole County, Fla. on Aug. 8, 2015.

In addition to losing her arm, Lilienthal was also bitten on her back and her abdomen, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where she underwent surgery, the commission said.

Helwig, a Florida State University sophomore and Eagle Scout, said Lilienthal's family contacted him to tell him she wanted to say thanks.

"It's kind of something that I don't think any of us will ever forget," Helwig said. "I'm just so glad that all of us were there at the right time to help her out."

Just a few minutes past midnight Sunday, wildlife officials said, the 8-foot-9-inch long, 300-pound heavy alligator was captured and killed.

Wildlife officials said they knew they got the right alligator because of evidence found in the animal’s stomach, WFTV reported.

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