JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Bloodied and dazed after being slashed by the claws of a brown bear, a woman struggled to walk 2 miles along a curvy, hilly trail to find someone to help her.
The woman, who has asked that her identity not be released, was hospitalized in stable condition Monday, a day after the attack on an Anchorage military base, officials said. She suffered lacerations to her neck, arms and legs.
The woman was jogging with her soldier husband Sunday morning on the northwestern part of the sprawling Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The couple became separated, and as she jogged down a hill near a bend, she came upon a bear leaving a trail at the same time.
Air Force Maj. Angela Webb said they startled each other, and the bear, with two cubs in tow, assumed a defensive position in the largely wooded, remote area.
"The bear attacked her, defending her babies, seeing her as a threat," said Mark Sledge, senior conservation law enforcement officer at the base.
The bear knocked down the woman and took at least one swipe at her. Officials still haven't interviewed the woman and don't know if she was knocked unconscious or played dead until the animal left the area. Playing dead is the appropriate response when meeting a female bear protecting cubs, Sledge said.
Authorities don't know how long she lay there after the attack. At some point, the blood-covered woman was able to start up the rough terrain for the road, about 2 miles away.
"The survival instinct for that woman is phenomenal," Sledge said. "The trauma that she went through and the walk out was heroic."
A soldier driving in the area saw the woman and rushed her to the base hospital. From there, she was transferred to the Alaska Native Medical Center.
Meanwhile, her husband knew nothing of the attack. He had gotten ahead of her while jogging and went back looking for her before base security picked him up and took him to the hospital.
Sledge estimated the bear to be between 7 and 8 feet tall based on the 7-inch size of the rear paw pads. He said the woman is lucky to be alive.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommended the recreation areas near the attack site be closed for a week to give the bear time to clear out.
Sledge reminded people to be aware of their surroundings, because spring in Alaska can be dangerous. It's a time when wildlife such as bears and moose will aggressively defend their young.
The joint Army and Air Force base covers 75,000 acres within the municipal limits of Anchorage. Some of the base is not fenced, allowing bears and moose to travel freely between base land and forest land surrounding the Chugach Mountains.
Based on past studies, officials estimated that up to 40 brown bears and up to 300 black bears migrate through the base seasonally, Sledge said.