+Bilder Posted July 29, 2003 Author Share Posted July 29, 2003 Friends describe fishing trip turned nightmare RUSSIAN RIVER: Bear with cubs "really aggressive" just before mauling. By CRAIG MEDRED Anchorage Daily News (Published: July 19, 2003) With 25-year-old Daniel Bigley still fighting for his life at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Friday, details were beginning to emerge about the Tuesday morning bear attack that turned a pleasant fishing trip to the popular Russian River into a nightmare. Bigley's friend and fishing companion, Jeremy Anderson, said he was at the top of a stairway leading to the Grayling parking lot in the Russian River Campground around 11:35 p.m. Monday when he heard that a brown bear had been spotted on the river below the bluff there. The 22-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Emily Maasch, had been fishing with Bigley and another young man on the river only half an hour before. They were waiting near the parking lot for their friends to join them. From that spot overlooking the river, Anderson said, "we saw someone taking pictures. So we hurried up and went over there because Emily had never seen a bear before.'' Anderson himself had a seen a few. He spent last year working for the concessionaire that runs the Russian River Campground, a place regularly visited by bears. And this summer he is rowing rafts on the Kenai River for a Cooper Landing tourism business. Bears are a common sight along that river. What Anderson and Maasch saw from the bluff Monday night was "this 800 to 900 pound grizzly bear with, I think, it had three cubs. When we saw the bear, it was already really aggressive ... it was running down the middle of the river, shaking its head.'' Anderson had no idea what might have upset the bear. The possibilities are endless. It could have been spooked by a fisherman downstream on the Russian. It could have had a bad encounter with another bear or bears. It could simply have been worried about the cubs, which Anderson said disappeared into the brush along the near bank of the river while their mother made a fuss. "It was in the middle of the river, running down the river,'' Anderson said. "I saw it shaking its head. It was in one of those very aggressive moods. "The cubs were along the shoreline that we couldn't see. Then the momma veered off. The momma veered toward the trail. "That's when I had the bad feeling,'' he said. The Russian River angler's trail, toward which the bear had turned, is at midsummer one of the most heavily trafficked trails in Alaska. Though it was now late at night, Anderson noted, "we'd seen some people going down (that trail) right about 20 minutes before it happened.'' Still, he wasn't particularly worried about their friends -- Bigley and Bigley's roommate, John. The roommate, Anderson and other friends of Bigley said, has been traumatized by the bear attack, and they fear anything written about the incident might put him under more stress, so they asked that his last name not be used. John was only feet away from Bigley when the bear attacked, grabbing him by the face. No one is sure how long the mauling continued, seconds or minutes, those involved said. Everyone familiar with the situation said it was obvious to John then that Bigley would never be able to see again -- if he lived at all. Bigley's condition Friday remained critical. His parents are in Anchorage with him now, praying he will survive so they can take him back to his Carmel, Calif., home to recover and begin to build a new life. Anderson said it is all hard to believe. "John and Dan are very experienced in the outdoors,'' he said. "More (so) than 80 or 90 percent of the people who go down there" to the Russian. If someone was to have a problem with a bear, Anderson didn't expect it to be these two. But that night he was beginning to worry what this bear might do because it was acting so strangely. Most bears seen at the Russian are afraid of people. A few act curious. Occasionally there are those that behave aggressively to try to get food or take fish. But this one acted like it was angry. "I really did have a feeling in my head that something wasn't right,'' Anderson said. "Five or 10 seconds later, I heard the screams.'' It was shortly after midnight, early Tuesday morning. At first, he thought someone was simply making noise to shoo away a bear. He did not know that Bigley and John were on the trail there. But he quickly realized something had gone badly wrong. "It registered with me,'' he said, "and I said to Emily, 'those aren't screams. Those are cries for help.' '' Together, Anderson and Maasch crept to the edge of the bluff to see if they could spot anything in the dusk that was slowly sliding into darkness. "We were very cautious walking up there,'' he said. When nothing was visible from the bluff, Anderson told Maasch to keep watch from there and he would descended the stairs that switchback down the side of the hill. He started down, but didn't get far. At the first corner, he said, he ran into two cubs that he described as small enough that "I could have cradled them in my arms." The cubs, he said, were "about 10 feet away from me and started hissing and coming toward me.'' Anderson started backing up. About the same time, he said, Emily saw the sow below the bluff and shouted a warning that the animal was coming up the steep hillside. "We didn't have anywhere to go,'' Anderson said, "so I told her to run for the bathroom.'' The Forest Service outhouses at the Russian River are concrete structures capable of stopping a bear, but Anderson and Maasch never made it there. "We wouldn't have made it to the bathrooms,'' Anderson said, "because the bear was only two steps behind us. (But) at that point, we saw a window of opportunity, which happened to be the Blazer.'' A Chevrolet Blazer had, fortuitously, pulled into the Grayling parking lot only 15 minutes before, Anderson said, and, even more fortuitously, its rear window was smashed out. "I pushed (Emily) in,'' Anderson said. Then he dove in behind her. "The bear was two feet behind me,'' he added. "It was growling and shaking its head. Then it started circling the Blazer, growling and shaking its head. "We were freaked out, you know.'' The bear made a few turns around the Blazer, but didn't try to get inside, before heading for the woods. Anderson and Maasch started honking the car horn, thinking that would bring help. When it didn't, Anderson and Maasch hopped out and went for the nearest campsite. "Campsite 81,'' he said. Retired U.S. Army Ranger Col. Frank Valentine, a tourist from Georgia, answered the banging on his door to find a distraught young couple. "They were in shock,'' Valentine said. "They were very, very anxious and scared to death.'' "I told him, 'We need your cell phone, and we need a gun,'' Anderson said. "I told him I was sure there was a bear mauling.'' A phone call was immediately made to 911 to alert authorities, after which Anderson and Valentine headed for the scene of the mauling. "We started hearing the screams,'' Valentine said, "so I responded. I noticed it was John's voice.'' Anderson and Valentine found John cradling Bigley's badly bleeding head. It looked, Vietnam veteran Valentine said, "like (Bigley) had been blasted in the face." John, according to Anderson, said he and Bigley had been coming up the trail from the direction of the Kenai River with Bigley's dog, Maya, when the dog went alert. "They were talking,'' Anderson said. "They were making noise. They were laughing. But about 10 seconds before the attack, the dog got skittish and barked. They heard a rustle through the brush where the island is.'' That island is just upstream from what Russian River anglers know as the "cottonwood hole,'' one of the more popular fishing hot spots between the Graying parking lot and the Kenai. The island upstream from it is small, maybe 10 feet wide and 50 feet long. Anderson thinks the cubs might have been on the island while the sow was in the river, but added "this is the part I'm a little foggy on.'' He does know, from talking to John on the night of the attack, that the sow came out of the brush near the island, just feet from where the riverside angler trail intersects a trail that cuts off to the stairway to the Grayling parking lot. "Maya, the dog, jetted down to the (Kenai-Russian) confluence and actually brought back two people,'' Anderson said. "John was able to duck in the bushes. The bear ran about two feet past him and grabbed Dan.'' In a matter of minutes, if not seconds, the bear's jaws had pushed the young fisherman close to death. "I don't even want to get into details of that,'' Anderson said. "John and Dan and I are close friends. I will give props to everyone that was helping out. This was one of those things I hope I never have to deal with again.'' Anderson is now trying to figure out how to establish a recovery fund for Bigley. Efforts were to start today at the "Festival of the Forest'' in Cooper Landing. A half-time employee at Alaska Children's Services, Bigley is fortunate to have some health insurance. "Our policy is that half-time employees (do have insurance). ... So he's covered by our health insurance,'' said Jim Maley, executive director there. "We're all relieved about it." Maley said Bigley was working as an activity therapist with troubled kids. "He worked with, and hopefully will at some point again work with, kids on a one-to-one basis,'' said Maley, who added that when he met Bigley he was impressed by the young man's "positive outlook. He was extremely positive and gifted in working with children. "Our thoughts and prayers are with him now.'' ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I have never been lost. Been awful confused for a few days, but never lost! N61.12.041 W149.43.734 Quote Link to comment
Join the conversation
You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.