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Father: It's a miracle son survived bear mauling

Posted: September 11, 2013 - 11:26pm  |  Updated: September 12, 2013 - 12:12am

ANCHORAGE — The father of a Rhode Island man who was mauled by a grizzly bear in Alaska said Wednesday it’s a miracle that his son is alive after suffering bites to his head and leg.

John O. Matson Jr. of Charlestown, R.I., was listed in fair condition Wednesday at an Anchorage hospital.

“He’s got a hell of a headache,” said his father, John O. Matson Sr. of Hopkinton, R. I., adding that his 46-year-old son was recuperating after head surgery. “His spirits are great.”

The younger Matson was attacked by the bear Monday during a guided bear hunt near Beaver Mountain, about 40 miles southwest of the interior town of McGrath. Bad weather prevented rescuers from quickly reaching Matson’s party of three. Matson was finally rescued from the remote spot on Tuesday.

Matson’s father credits the two other hunters, also from Rhode Island, with saving his son. The guide, Steve Persson of Charlestown, and another man the father wouldn’t identify were packing to leave the hunting camp. They planned to visit their wounded friend later at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

“He’s very grateful to his friends,” the elder Matson said.

His son, a construction contractor, does not want to speak with reporters about his ordeal, but he does want people to know he’s OK, the father said.

Matson Jr. was attacked about 90 minutes after first wounding the bear.

Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the hunters had initially seen the bear feeding on berries. They were about a mile away and approached the animal for the first time.

Matson shot at the bear and saw it roll into bushes, Peters said. The grizzly ran off into heavier brush after it flailed about in the brush for a while.

Peters said the hunters waited about 90 minutes, then went after the bear again in some thickets. That’s where Matson was attacked. The two others were a short distance away, and the guide heard Matson scream and fire his weapon.

The grizzly ran off after Matson’s friends fired shots at the animal. The three men then headed back to their camp about a mile away.

The others used clothing to wrap Matson’s profusely bleeding head and took care of him the best they could, according to Peters.

“They kept him awake all night talking to him,” she said.

Bad weather prevented a flight from reaching the injured hunter on Monday. On Tuesday morning, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center sent an Alaska Air National Guard team to the area in a Pave Hawk helicopter. Rescuers initially couldn’t find the hunters because of bad weather and their inability to make contact with the men. They had to halt the search for a while so they could refuel in McGrath before resuming the search.

They found the hunters early that afternoon. But because of the terrain and low visibility, the team was dropped off in a different location and then had to hike in to the injured hunter, the Guard said.

Matson was first flown to McGrath and from there a LifeMed Alaska flight transported him 225 miles southeast to the Anchorage hospital.

“I’m sure he’s got one heck of a story. He’ll have awesome scars to go with it,” Peters said. “He’s certainly lucky.”com

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