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Wife of JBER soldier walked a mile uphill after bear attack

May. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
101 Critical Days of Summer
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson members and their families are reminded to be aware of their surroundings and stay safe while enjoying Alaska's outdoor activities. On Sunday, a woman was attacked while jogging with her husband at the base. (Staff Sgt. Blake Mize/Air Force)
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The wife of a soldier who was attacked by a brown bear late Sunday morning while jogging at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, managed to walk about a mile and a half uphill for help.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, startled the bear and her two cubs as she jogged along Fossil Creek and Pole Line Road about 11:30 a.m., according to the base. A passing soldier discovered the bleeding woman and took her to the hospital, where she is in stable condition.

The woman was out jogging with her husband at the time of the attack, but they’d become separated when he ran ahead. The soldier reported his wife missing when he couldn’t find her along the running trail or back at their truck, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Security forces took the soldier to the hospital, where his wife was already in the emergency room.

JBER spokesman James Hart said he could not speak to the nature of the woman’s injuries, but that “bear attacks usually result in severe injuries just from the raw power of the animals.”

The Anchorage paper reported the woman endured lacerations to her neck and arms — injuries that can occur when someone rolls into a ball to protect the back of their head.

The bear apparently struck the woman and then walked away, conservation law enforcement officer Mark Sledge said in public service announcement posted to the JBER website Tuesday.

“The survival instinct for that woman is phenomenal, because the trauma she went through and the walk-out was heroic,” Sledge said.

The area where the incident occurred will be closed for about a week, which is standard after a bear attack. There will be no further investigation because the bear was acting defensively to protect her cubs, Hart said, and there are no plans to increase patrols in the area once it is reopened.

“Spring is particularly dangerous, not just with bears but with moose calving and everything else. Mamas will aggressively defend their babies. When they are surprised, they are going to react accordingly,” Sledge said in the announcement.

Bears, moose and wolves are not uncommon at the base, which spreads across about 84,000 acres and is relatively undeveloped, according to the base website, although attacks are extremely rare.

“Conservation officers work hard to educate the community and help them to become ‘bear aware.’ Bears, like moose and other animals, are a fact of life in Alaska generally,” Hart wrote in an email, “and there are inherent risks that come with going into wooded areas, park lands or wilderness.”

Newcomers to JBER are briefed on bears and other wildlife. Permits, which are available at www.jber.isportsman.net, are required to access certain areas of the base and users must sign in and out. The woman who was attacked had a permit and was legally in the area, Sledge said.

He recommended bear spray and making noise when out in the wilderness to avoid startling an animal. But, “as [Sunday’s] case was, sometimes surprises happen no matter how well prepared you are, and you can get attacked.”

If you are attacked by a bear — whether brown or black — the recommendation is the same: “You play dead,” Sledge said.

The base beefed up education efforts after a 2010 black bear encounter involving four girls ages 5 to 9, said Maj. Angela Webb, a base spokeswoman. Three of the children played dead when the bear approached them; one yelled at the bear and went for help.

“The children did what they were taught to do,” Webb said. “Luckily, the bear walked away and the children weren’t harmed.”

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