A 70-year-old vacationer freed himself from the jaws of a 10-foot alligator by socking it in the eye, Sea Pines authorities said Thursday.
The man, visiting the Hilton Head Island resort last month, was near a lagoon's edge and preparing to release a fish he had caught when the gator lunged from the water and latched onto his leg, according to Sea Pines security director George Breed.
David Henderson, a Sea Pines wildlife biologist who responded to the incident, said the man gouged the gator's eyes and repeatedly struck the top of its head.
The man was treated at Hilton Head Hospital and released.
Breed declined to release the man's name. He also declined to comment about the extent of his injuries, other than to say they required stitches.
Sea Pines staff captured and shot the gator.
The male gator, which probably weighed about 250 pounds, might have been attracted by the fish, Henderson said.
The man stated he had not seen a gator in the area. Henderson said it's likely the gator was either submerged nearby or able to approach undetected by remaining underwater. This time of year, he said, gators can stay underwater for about 30 minutes at a time.
The incident occurred about 8 a.m. June 28 between Spanish Moss Road and the Inland Harbour villas near the intersection of Plantation Drive and Lighthouse Road.
Such incidents are rare in South Carolina, authorities say.
State officials learn of a gator attack about every two to three years, said S.C. Department of Natural Resources spokesman Brett Witt.
"Typically, encounters stem from situations where the alligator had been fed or the victim was feeding or harassing the animal," he wrote in an email.
Feeding a gator can make the reptiles less fearful of humans and is illegal.
Henderson said it wasn't clear if the gator in the Sea Pines' incident had been fed.
The last reported gator bite in Beaufort County was on Fripp Island in 2009, when a 77-year-old man lost his arm below the elbow after leaning down to pick up his golf ball and encountering a 10-foot, 400-pound gator.
The last reported bite in Sea Pines was in 2005, when an 11-foot, 500- to 600-pound gator bit and quickly released a landscaper's leg, according to Henderson and news accounts.
DNR agents investigate more than 750 gator-related complaints and kill 200 to 250 "nuisance alligators" a year, Witt said.
More than half the complaints involve gators less than five feet long, he said.
No one in South Carolina has ever been killed by an alligator, and it's possible for gators and people to coexist peacefully if people don't approach, harass or feed the reptiles, said Dean Harrigal, a DNR wildlife biologist who fields alligator complaints on the state's southern coast.
Authorities say there isn't an established protocol for escaping a gator bite.
"Of course, a gator is going to be used to a certain amount of thrashing about, so 'by any means necessary' is the recommendation," Witt wrote. "That being said, gators are more sensitive around the nose and eyes, so that would be your best bet."
Sea Pines officials suggested the man should not have ventured so close to the water but said he responded appropriately.
"I think he did exactly what he should have, which is fight with all you have in you," Henderson said.
Follow reporter Josh McCann at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.