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After a five-hour rescue effort Friday, a 9-foot-long alligator stuck in a Hilton Head Plantation storm drain was swimming in a nearby lagoon, away from the crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle that involved fishing lines, ropes, PVC pipes and snares.
Critter Management and plantation security pulled the gator from underground at 3 p.m. amid cheers from onlookers and a snort from the reptile.
"He was just a little bruised and battered -- especially his pride," plantation general manager Peter Kristian said of the freed gator.
Joe Maffo, owner of Critter Management, called it one of his toughest rescues ever.
How the gator ended up in the storm drain near Seabrook Drive, and how long it was there -- some say two months -- is still a mystery. It would have had to make a 90-degree turn at one point through the network of pipes -- something that is nearly impossible for a gator of that size, Maffo said. It ended up with its body stuck in the pipe and only its head visible in a catch basin beneath the grate.
Maffo lifted a storm cover across the street from the grate and used all of the tools of his trade to try to hook the gator. Neighbors watched from behind caution tape, and passing drivers slowed to take a peek.
The crowd got so thick Friday morning that the rescue team postponed the work until early afternoon.
Kristian shooed away news organizations with video cameras, citing the community board of directors' rules against live footage. Kristian said residents don't expect to be filmed by news cameras in a private gated community and that, if the rescue had gone awry, he "wouldn't want it on the 6 o'clock news."
At first, Maffo tried to prod the gator with PVC pipes from the other side of the storm drain to get him to poke its head out. But the gator backed up too far for its snout to be snared, Maffo said.
Instead, rescuers tied plastic bottles to a fishing line so it would float, dragging fish hooks until they snagged the gator's back. When they could reach its head, the rescue team attached a snare around its snout and pulled the gator out of the catch basin.
He was released in a lagoon near the community's POA office.
"He was very docile," Maffo said. "And I am totally drained."