Florida man describes being lost in swamp, wrestling gator and losing arm while trying to swim to safety

A 43-year-old Sarasota resident was first lost in a swamp and then lost his arm to an alligator while swimming across a lake. Three days later, he was finally spotted and rescued.

On July 17, Eric Merda went alone to the Lake Manatee Fish Camp in Myakka City. When he realized he was lost, his judgment became impaired. Coming across a lake, it seems he thought he might have better luck finding his way back to civilization on the other side. So, he decided to swim across.

Knowing that there could be alligators in the water, Merda later admitted that it was “not the smartest decision a Florida boy can make,” WTSP reported.

“I look over and there’s a gator on my right-hand side,” he told reporters. “She got my forearm so I grabbed her like this, she was trying to roll by… She snapped her head so my arm went backwards like this completely.”

The alligator reportedly dragged Merda underwater three times in the patented death-roll technique the reptiles are known for, but the swamp man fought back hard enough for the alligator to flee. By then, the damage to his arm was devastating.

Though in utter agony, the survivor made it to shore and started yelling for help.

“Bones [were] poking out, muscles, if I try to move my fingers, you could see it twitching,” he said.

It might seem farfetched, but Merda said he walked for three days looking for someone, anyone to help. Finally, he came upon a fence and saw a man on the other side whom he entreated to help him.

“I said a gator got me arm,” he reported, adding, “holy smokes man!”

Merda’s rescuer said he found the man naked and bloody.

“I didn’t know if he was dead or alive when I first walked upon him,” said Merda’s hero.

“And there’s nothing, no words can describe it, you know,” told Fox News 13. “He was in a lot of pain. He was like just help, help, help.”

When the ambulance arrived, the rescuer reports that “They cut the fence, they helped him up, and he actually walked to the ambulance,” whereupon he was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where doctors amputated what was left of his arm.

There was an attempt to find the alligator responsible for this treachery, but whether the animal was found is unknown.

In Merda’s defense, alligator attacks are not terribly common, and deaths by gators are even less common, happening at an average rate of one per year. There have been two so far this year, though, in the Tampa area alone.

In terms of the total number of attacks near Tampa this year, deadly or otherwise, WTSP reports that there have been at least six. (One wonders how long it might be before someone blames climate change for increased gator attacks!)

One of the two fatal attacks in 2022 occurred just a few days before this story unfolded, at the Boca Royale Golf and Country Club in Englewood when an 80-year-old woman fell into the canal near her house on the golf course, according to WTSP.

The other fatal attack happened in the Tampa Bay area in late May. A man was believed to have been looking for Frisbees in a Largo lake.


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