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Woman survives bear attack

Posted: August 28, 2012 - 11:02pm

FAIRBANKS — A Seattle woman working for a Canadian mining company was attacked and bitten on the hand by a grizzly bear about 20 miles north of the Denali Highway near Tangle Lakes.

Julia Stafford, 20, and a male co-worker she knows only as Kerry, were collecting rock samples in the rain when they encountered the bear in a foggy ravine about 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

“The bear sort of walked out of the fog and it had two cubs with it,” Stafford told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner when contacted by phone Monday from her bed at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where she was being treated for bites to her hand and scratches to her back.

“We started walking uphill to get away from it and it started walking toward us,” she said. “We stopped once we saw it was following us and tried to get the bear spray out but by then it was already running toward us.”

Stafford had the can of bear spray on her pack, which she was holding in her hands, when the bear charged. She didn’t have time to get it out before the bear crashed into them, she said.

“I was wearing gloves and they were wet and it was confusing,” Stafford said. “There was just not enough time to get the bear spray out.”

Stafford is a geological engineering student at the University of British Columbia. She was working as a soil sampler for Pure Nickel Inc., a North American mineral exploration and development company based in Ontario.

Stafford’s memory of the attack was like the weather foggy. It all happened in seconds, she said. The bear knocked both her and her co-worker down, and they both played dead. Once they were on the ground, the bear focused its attention on Stafford.

“It bit my hand and kind of dragged me 20 feet over the rocks and just left me,” she said. “I was worried I was going to die briefly, but it was fine once she let me go and ran away.”

Stafford thinks she screamed as the bear was dragging her, but she isn’t sure.

“It happened really quick,” she said.

Following the attack, her co-worker made sure the bear was gone and wrapped her bleeding hand with a fleece jacket. They walked out of the ravine to an open area and called for a helicopter, which picked them up within 20 minutes. Another employee drove her to the hospital in Fairbanks after the attack.

Stafford suffered cuts to her right hand and scratch marks on her back that required stitches. She will need surgery for a broken bone in her hand, Stafford said.

The attack on Stafford came just two days after a lone backpacker in Denali National Park and Preserve was killed and eaten by a grizzly bear, the first fatal bear mauling in the park’s 95-year history. Richard White, 49, of San Diego was killed after he encountered the large grizzly along the Toklat River on Friday. In that incident, photos taken by White on a digital camera show that he spent almost eight minutes watching and photographing the bear before it attacked.

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