A real John Wayne leaves us won­der­ing how we would en­dure a bru­tal at­tack

A real John Wayne leaves us won­der­ing how we would en­dure a bru­tal at­tack

RSWLiving - - Features - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT

It’s hardly the set­ting for an am­bush. The tamed river is wide, a quar­ter mile or so, one side a sea­wall with docks and shops, the other a rock em­bank­ment lead­ing to a paved road. It’s the com­mer­cial district in Moore Haven, which is ru­ral cen­tral Florida, but not quite the Ever­glades.

There is a spot on that stretch of the Caloosahat­chee that’s iffy, where a large tree with heavy branches sags into the river along the em­bank­ment, the only heavy con­ceal­ment on ei­ther side of the broad river. It turned out to be a good ’gator hid­ing spot.

On a hot July day in 2012, Kaleb “Fred” Lang­dale and two boys swam that point in the river. Another boy and a girl cheered from the docks. There was no fear of swim­ming the brack­ish Caloosahat­chee.

Lang­dale’s public or­deal be­gan when a bull al­li­ga­tor made a rare move on the boys rac­ing back and forth across the Caloosahat­chee. The 10-footer had lain in

wait un­der the sag­ging branches. Lang­dale’s right fore­arm was snatched off, and with it tasks as sim­ple as zip­ping pants.

Sud­denly the world wanted to know “Gator Fred” Lang­dale, about his defiant fight in the river and seem­ing in­dif­fer­ence to his loss. Look­ing back, how­ever, Lang­dale notes that an al­li­ga­tor at­tack is a cruel way to gain no­to­ri­ety. Al­li­ga­tors are so me­chan­i­cal, so brute stupid. The in­stinct upon meet­ing Lang­dale, as guile­less as a puppy, is a wish for the town to have avenged the at­tack― which it did, killing the al­li­ga­tor within hours.

And yet Lang­dale, now 20, is re­mark­ably good-na­tured and op­ti­mistic. That he sur­vived is good. But that he en­dures, that he tells you things are OK, that’s the story.

Lang­dale is not alone, of course. Al­li­ga­tor at­tacks on hu­mans do oc­cur oc­ca­sion­ally, and are of­ten deadly. A dozen or so peo­ple have died in Florida since 2000, in­clud­ing two on Sani­bel — Janie Melsek and Robert Steele died from al­li­ga­tor-in­flicted bites. The city has im­posed heavy fines and re­stric­tions on feed­ing al­li­ga­tors, which by most ac­counts en­cour­ages them to at­tack.

Un­der­stand­ing Kaleb Lang­dale is to won­der whether you would main­tain his amaz­ing op­ti­mism, mi­nus a fore­arm and the weird stig­mas of a wild an­i­mal at­tack. Could you cope with the phantom pain am­putees say is very real, that Lang­dale lightly med­i­cates to soften?

Lang­dale was fit­ted with a pros­thetic fore­arm, his non­dom­i­nant left hand re­con­di­tioned to hold a fork and tap a key­board. He uses pin­cers on the pros­thetic arm to grip or steady what he’s hold­ing, his left hand to fin­ish the chore. Un­ty­ing a knot­ted rope is an ex­am­ple, or hitch­ing a trailer to a truck, as he did dur­ing a visit to talk about his in­jury. The ma­chine on the trailer was a four-wheeler to hunt wild boar. He has a hand­gun on his left hip, a shot­gun he racks with his hand. Only once did his hand­i­cap im­pede the trip―when the pros­thetic de­vice came apart, ap­par­ently from grap­pling with air­boats and heavy ma­chines at the fam­ily’s home, where a dozen or so hunt­ing dogs are also kept fenced. He screwed the arm back to­gether in less than a minute. “I can still shoot and hunt and work,” says Lang­dale, wear­ing a crooked smile. “Hey, I know a guy missing two arms, and he’s fine. I have noth­ing to com­plain about.”

Lang­dale, an avid hunter, uses his left hand to write, drive and grip a gun.

Kaleb “Fred” Lang­dale, now 20, sur­vived an al­li­ga­tor at­tack in 2012.

Lang­dale swam from this Moore Haven dock on the Caloosahat­chee the day he was at­tacked. The al­li­ga­tor, mea­sur­ing more than 10 feet, was cap­tured and killed af­ter the at­tack.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.