Drone pilot Matt Ross was filming Juan Carlos La Verde, a firefighter and paramedic, when La Verde suddenly felt a 12-foot gator “pierce” his skin and make his head “pop,” per Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
La Verde, 34, was swimming in Lake Thonotosassa in suburban Tampa during filming of an instructional video for DefeatX, an organization that aims to help people dealing with anxiety and depression through athletic endeavors. Ross’ drone captured the attack on camera.
Watch the encounter below:
Creative Loafing Tampa Bay reported that the alligator closed its mouth with a total pressure of around 2,000 pounds on La Verde’s head and chest. The bite was enough to crush a portion of La Verde’s skull and break his jaw.
In an interview with WFTS-TV, La Verde, a former U.S. Air Force pararescueman, recalled the moment he knew he was under attack.
“With the right stroke, all I felt was scales, teeth and then right there I’m like okay. So, what I think I did, what I felt like I did, was that I immediately tried to open its jaws because I knew I was in a gator,” La Verde said. “When I felt the teeth, I immediately knew, and then as I opened it I knew that I either turned it or it turned me, but it was confused just as I was confused, and then it just let go.”
According to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, it was the 18th attack by an alligator this year.
A good Samaritan drove La Verde to the hospital. La Verde then endured a 6-hour surgery and will have to undergo more operations in the months ahead.
Ross, who unknowingly captured the attack from above, said he couldn’t believe La Verde survived the encounter.
“It’s both a tragedy and a miracle at the same time,” Ross told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
La Verde admitted to the newspaper that he hadn’t taken precautions before swimming in the lake, such as examining the water for alligators and avoiding weedy areas during nesting and hatching season.
However, La Verde is still looking up despite the scary encounter.
“I am perfectly fine. I am actually even better because this gave me a new perspective, you know, and not many people get that,” La Verde told WFTS-TV. “Find your God. Find him. It’s silly. I get that that’s scary, I do, but life is a scary place, so you can carry that load by yourself or have someone carry it for you.”