Amazing video: Alligator handler attacked in front of crowd - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Amazing video: Alligator handler attacked in front of crowd

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(CBS) - A performance in Florida went horribly wrong over the weekend when a 45-year-old veteran alligator handler was badly bitten in full view of the crowd.

Jeff Quattrocchi, who calls himself the "Swamp Master," was working with a wild, eight-foot gator at the Cotee River Seafood Festival in New Port Richey when he suddenly started screaming.

Three-quarters of his arm was in the gator's mouth.

Quattrocchi, 45, travels around the country to state fairs and festivals -- part handler, part educator on all-things alligator.

The gator in New Port Richey was new to Quattrocchi. They'd only done five shows together.

Quattrocchi, 45, has been doing shows like that for 17 years, almost 10,000 in all, and it's been ten since he was bitten - never this badly, he says.

After tearing himself from the gator's grip, he shocked the crowd by going back into the water to stop the animal from escaping.

One witness said, "It was bad. He was bleeding everywhere and stuff."

Said another, "Boy -- he had to pull his arm out of the mouth of the alligator and it ripped a nice gash into his arm."

Quattrocchi wound up with 36 staples and 22 stitches to seal his wounds.

But he points at himself when explaining what happened.

"I jumped wrong," he told "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith Tuesday. "It was total human error. When I jumped on the back of the alligator, the positioning of the alligator was wrong. I just basically mis-timed my jump. … I basically stuck my arm in his mouth. It was a mistake. I zigged when I should have zagged."

The bite, he says, was "an eye-opener, and I'll learn from it. I was I total survival mode. … I was just trying to maintain my cool. He went into a death roll with me and I actually rolled with him once.

"People ask me how I got my arm out. I have no idea. An alligator like that will hold onto you all day long. It's the highest level alligator - a gator that's never been handled. I just remember … trying to save my arm from getting torn off."

Luckily, the gator didn't get to the tattoo on his arm!

Quattrocchi says he hopes to be back on the job in six weeks. "You gotta get back on that horse!" he says.

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