Seven teenagers who were attacked by a female grizzly bear last Saturday night while on a wilderness training course near Talkeetna, Alaska, are starting to tell the harrowing details of their experiences, as reported by the Associated Press, Alaska Dispatch, Animal Planet, KNTV NBC Bay Area, KTVU, and multiple other news sources published on Monday, July 25, 2011.
The group were in the 24th day of a month long wilderness training exercise sponsored by the Lander, Wyoming based National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) when they encountered the bear with a cub, after they crossed a stream about 100 miles north of Anchorage.
What followed was highly unusual, according to Eeva Latosuo, an Assistant Professor of Outdoor Studies at Alaska Pacific University, who said that there have never been any reported attacks by grizzly bears on groups of 4 or more people. Wilderness instructors had always considered the “four-or-more” rule dependable, because it had protected thousands student expeditions in the past.
As NOLS Alaska director Don Ford explained, “We’re celebrating our 40th year in Alaska this year. I’m thinking we’re into the 10,000 student range. This is the first bear attack.”
Ford added that the attack was “unprecedented”.
For the 7 campers, it was more like moments of chaos and terror, especially for two 17-year-old teenagers, Joshua Berg from New City, New York and Samuel Gottsegen from Denver, Colorado who were the most seriously injured.
The two were the first to surprise the golden or blonde-colored sow and her cub, as they hiked along a narrow trail in single file, preparing to cross a river.
Berg pretended to be dead after he had his head fractured by the aggressive animal, who according to reports, then moved on to attack Gottsegen across his chest with her sharp claws, puncturing and collapsing a lung and breaking two ribs. Both injuries were life threatening.
It was only then that the confused animal realized the two campers were not alone. The grizzly then bit or clawed three more students, before she turned and bounded away. The attacks lasted less than a minute.
The others were not seriously hurt, except for Victor Martin of Richmond, California, who suffered a bite to one of his ankles, as seen in the attached slide show and video clip which accompany this article.
Once the bear retreated, the group set up camp, performed first aid on the injured and activated a personal locator beacon which they carried for emergencies.
The distress signal was picked up at the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) operated by the Alaska Air National Guard, who called troopers around 9:30 p.m. local time to report the activated signal. A trooper and helicopter pilot located the students in a tent shortly before 3:00 a.m.
They decided the two most seriously injured would need a medical transport aircraft. More rescuers arrived in a specially equipped helicopter four hours later and took the injured to an Anchorage hospital.
As 17-year-old Samuel Gottsegen, told the Associated Press in an interview from his hospital bed, “I thought I was going to die when I was being attacked. I was so scared.”
Victor Martin, walking on crutches, bragged to friends and family who greeted him upon returning to his northern California home, that he had kicked the bear in its face, and told it not to mess with him. He might have been exaggerating, but it made for a good story.
Grizzly bears, with coloring from blond to deep brown or black, can reach weights of 400 to 1,500 pounds, and attain speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. Trying to outrun a bear is never advised. Female bears, called sows, can produce 1 to 4 cubs, and are very protective when they are with their young.
Bear attacks are very rare. According to published scientific studies, there were 162 bear-inflicted injuries reported in the United States between 1900 and 1985. This amounts to approximately two injuries per year, compared to the 15 people killed every year by dogs, and 90 people annually who are struck by lightning.
The best strategy in preventing a bear attack is to not surprise such animals, especially if they are with their cubs. They will attack humans to protect their young, or out of extreme hunger.
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