Fripp Island golfer loses arm to alligator

A 77-year-old man lost his arm below the elbow Thursday when he was attacked by an alligator while playing golf on Fripp Island.

The man, the father of a Fripp Island property owner, was playing the 11th hole of the island's Ocean Creek Golf Course at about 3 p.m. when the attack occurred. The victim was leaning down to pick up his ball when a 10-foot long alligator grabbed his arm, said Kate Hines, general manager of the Fripp Island Property Owners Association.

Hines said the alligator dragged the man into a nearby pond and went into a series of "death rolls," a technique the reptile uses to tear apart its food. The man lost his arm in the struggle.

The man's golf buddies were able to free him from the alligator's grasp and called 911. They kept an eye on the alligator until workers from Tracks Wildlife Control in Beaufort arrived, Hines said.

The victim, visiting family on the island, was taken to Beaufort Memorial Hospital.Tracks workers killed the alligator and performed a necropsy at the scene to remove the man's arm from the animal's digestive track, Hines said.

The arm was stored in a cooler in the hopes of re-attaching it. The victim was flown at about 5:30 p.m. to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. His condition was unknown late Thursday night.

There have been 10 confirmed alligator attacks in the past 25 years in South Carolina, according to state's Department of Natural Resources. DNR estimates that 100,000 to 200,000 American alligators live along South Carolina's coasts.

Thursday's attack could have been caused by any number of factors, said Joe Maffo, owner of Critter Management, a Hilton Head Island business specializing in alligator removal.

"It could have been a mother protecting her brood, this alligator may have been fed before by people or it could have been a dominance thing and the alligator felt he was trespassing," Maffo said. "These kinds of attacks are very, very unusual and very, very unfortunate. It's sad."