By that point, the Bloomington resident said he realized all too clearly what was happening. "I probably had a thousand thoughts in the space of 30 seconds," he said.
"I remember thinking, pull the jaws apart. Then it was, no, wait. They have tremendous jaw strength," he said. "Then it was, 'Punch it in the nose.' No, that's what you do to sharks."
Reflexively holding his breath, Waggoner began punching at the head of the beast, trying to find its eyes. "Even then, I remember thinking, wait a minute, this is a scaly dinosaur and all I have to fight with is this wimpy little hand," he said.
"I was definitely starting to panic at that point. I was thinking, 'I really don't want to drown,' so I started pushing on the thing's head and trying to wrench my head out of its jaws," Waggoner recalled.
To his amazement, he pulled himself free, shot straight up -- 10-15 feet -- to the surface of the water, and began swimming like there was no tomorrow. "The adrenaline was definitely pumping," the blonde, 27-year-old said. "My first thought, other than getting the hell out of there, was 'I need to scream now.' At that point the blood from my head was beginning to pour down over my face."
As he was swimming, Waggoner was wondering where the next bite would be? Would the croc grab his foot? A leg? An arm? What's the Spanish word for crocodile?
Given the location, El Rosario National Park, there was a dock, and rangers at the scene. They were extending to Waggoner hooks and rakes, apparently thinking he had a drowning scare. Once on the dock and on his feet, a ranger saw that his scalp was peeled back, like a flap. "He literally said the Spanish equivalent of 'Oh s---!'," Waggoner said with a laugh.
It was only then, after he got on his feet and felt safe, that he began to feel pain -- a headache that felt like pressure.
Fortunately, there was a hospital nearby with a handful of nurses and Cuban doctor on duty. "It's ironic that the most pain I felt the whole time was when the doctor stuck the needle into my head for the local anesthetic," Waggoner said.
As the physician began sewing what would be more than 100 stitches in the croc victim's head, someone went to contact a local American couple, thinking they might help with translation. Virgil Stolzfus, the son of American missionaries, and his wife, Dara, arrived to find Waggoner, face-down on the operating table, joking and laughing. "My husband said, 'This guy is a trip,'" Dara said in an e-mail exchange.
Dara shot numerous photographs of Waggoner on the operating table and the couple invited him to stay with them to recuperate after he was released from the hospital. Waggoner said he was tremendously grateful for the couple's generosity and, especially, for the medical and other assistance from the doctor, nurses and other Guatemalans.
He said it was a fairly amazing coincidence that the Stolzfuses hailed from Lancaster, Pa. -- the same area where he grew up.
Equally odd, if not more so, is that one of the premier crocodile and alligator experts in the world is National Geographic's Brady Barr, who grew up in Bloomington and graduated from Bloomington High School South. "You can tell your guy (Waggoner) he's one lucky guy," Barr said by phone today. "You know, crocodiles have the strongest bite of any animal on the planet. It's generally accepted that they have a bite force of 3,000 pounds but I've measured one at 5,000 pounds. (A large, great white shark's bite is around 400, for example.)"
Barr said Waggoner actually was lucky that the croc bit his head. "With that kind of bite force and a powerful tail and when they go into that spin, whatever they've latched onto is going to come off," he explained. "If it had grabbed by an arm or a leg it would have ripped it off and he would have bled to death. If you're going to be bitten, the head's a pretty good place. There's not a lot of tissue there."