Woman describes coming face-to-face with gator that bit her arm off

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — A woman who had her arm bitten off by an alligator while she was swimming in the Wekiva River talked about her experience late Monday night.

Rachael Lilienthal said she's grateful to the people who jumped in to save her, but she also credited her survival to being comfortable in the water and not panicking when the attack happened.

During an interview with ABC News, Lilienthal described the attack in detail.

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"As I was moving in the water, this gator just grabbed my arm," she said.

Lilienthal, 37, described the moment she came face-to-face with the 300-pound gator in the Wekiva River in early August.

Lilienthal was on a third date canoeing when, despite several people discouraging her, she decided to get in the water and go for a swim. After about 10 minutes in the water, the college professor said she was pulled under.

"At one point, it rolled me around, and I could feel my arm break. At that point, I realized, 'OK, you're not getting out of this,'" Lilienthal said. "[I] tapped its head. Gator didn't let go of my arm. I pounded it with my fist a little bit."

Lilienthal was pulled to safety, but not before the alligator bit her arm off.

"The gator gave up, and when the gator gave up, he swam away, and he took my arm with him," said Lilienthal.

Casey Spencer told Channel 9 that he and his girlfriend were kayaking nearby and rushed to help Lilienthal escape the gator.

One of those who came to Lilienthal's aid, Joshua Helwig, 19, said he and his girlfriend were canoeing on the river when they heard Lilienthal's screams.

"I just had this overwhelming sense that we had to help her and get her to shore," Helwig said.

Wekiva Island officials said that FWC trappers had captured the 8 foot 9 inch alligator after setting bait traps.

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