Nichole Tillman was attacked by an 8-foot-6-inch gator while swimming in Key Lake Wilderness Park

By Eric Todisco
May 27, 2019 02:51 PM
Credit: ABC

A 26-year-old woman was attacked and seriously injured by an alligator while out swimming in a Florida lake.

According to ABC News, officials confirmed the woman as Nichole Tillman from Melbourne, Florida, and that she was attacked on Saturday afternoon at Key Lake Wilderness Park in Cocoa. Brevard County Fire Rescue did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Speaking with ABC News, witness Dave Nygard described seeing the 8-foot-6-inch gator attack Tillman.

“We’re hanging out about waist to chest deep in the lake. Next thing you know, a girl starts screaming and luckily a couple guys reacted and grab her,” Nygard explained. “I thought she was more or less joking around … next thing you know, we pull her out and her side and her thigh were open. So then about 30 seconds later I see a gator head pop up. It was every bit of 8 foot.”

Officials said that after being rescued by Nygard and other witnesses, Tillman was driven several miles to a nearby road, where a medical helicopter transported her to the nearest hospital, Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.

While officials did not reveal the full extent of Tillman’s injuries, they did say they were “significant.”

“We have a female who was allegedly bit by an alligator. She was out in the woods, swimming in a lake, from what we understand,” Brevard County Fire Rescue District Chief Thomas Uzel told ABC News. “She was classified as a trauma alert and she was transported to Holmes.”

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Nygard recalled that at the time of the alligator attack, there were about a dozen people freely swimming in the lake.

“Several people grabbed towels and shirts and wrapped her side and leg and then they rushed her up here to the [road],” he said.

While alligators are frequent in Florida, the attack itself was not something seen often, according to Uzel.

“Not very often,” Uzel explained. “As far as alligator bites, I think this was the second in 35 years.”

After the attack, officials said that an alligator trapper came to the scene and successfully removed the gator.

“Usually gators are not intrusive on people,” Nygard said. “They’re more or less more scared of us than we are of them, so for the gator to come up and — he was curious more or less — so thank goodness we got her out and hopefully she’s doing fine right now.”

Regardless, Nygard feels confident the attack won’t keep people out of the lakes.

“You hear of shark bites, yet we keep going in the ocean,” he said. “Born and raised in Florida, not going to keep us out of lakes.”