Man who survived bear mauling near Gulkana details harrowing experience from hospital bed
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Content warning: This story contains details some readers may find disturbing.
Inside Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, 61-year-old Allen Minish is in a twin-sized hospital bed, recovering from a near-deadly bear attack that almost put him in a much worse place on Tuesday evening.
With some hundred stitches and a lengthy recovery ahead, Minish spoke clearly, describing his encounter with what Alaska State Troopers reported was a brown bear near Gulkana that happened as he was surveying a parcel of land for work in an undeveloped subdivision.
Familiar with wooded areas and having long worked as a surveyor across Alaska, he said, Tuesday started as an ordinary day.
“I basically started hiking from the Richardson Highway into the woods,” Minish said, noting that his process in the morning was a normal one, beginning with setting up a base station for his work. “I found the old survey line that was de-brushed in, probably, ‘79. And then I had a, basically, a 1,320-foot walk, or a quarter of a mile, in.”
Alternating between clearer sections and covered ones overrun by spruce, alders and other tangled vegetation, he went from one corner of the lot to the next to flag each spot up, until he was interrupted.
“All of the sudden, I looked up, and about 30 feet away, there was this nice-sized brown bear,” he recounted. “And it looked at me, and it came at me. And I thought, ‘Great...’”
Minish said he sought shelter behind several alder shrubs, which failed to provide any protection. He fell backward as the bear pursued him and reached up to grab the beast’s lower jaw.
“Because if you grab a dog’s lower jaw, it can’t bite you,” he explained. “So I got a hole punched in my hand with its molar, but he couldn’t close his mouth. And all he did was scratch my hand with his upper one.
“But then he twisted his head so fast, he knocked my hand free,” Minish continued, “and when he did that, he lunged, grabbed my head, took the first bite, relaxed, and took the second bite, that was stronger. And that’s when he cracked all the bones and part of my head.”
Minish said there was a moment of realization when the bear put its mouth over his skull.
“I was like, ‘Holy s---, this is a big bear,’” he said. “It’s still very vivid in my mind.”
The bear let go and Minish rolled onto the ground, attempting to guard his face and head with his hands and arms, before the bear finally stalked off.
“I knew I was hurt really bad,” Minish said. “I had blood everywhere. I reached into my pocket to call 911 – I had to wipe blood off the phone and out of my eyes, constantly – and I finally was able to get 911.”
Those deep bites would test Minish’s pain tolerance and mental fortitude. After he reached a dispatcher, he took what little coverage he had on his upper body – a surveyor’s vest and a tee shirt – to try and stop or at least slow the bleeding from his head. Doctors later told him they were shocked he arrived conscious with how much blood he’d lost.
Alaska State Troopers in Glennallen would receive notice of the incident at 11:18 a.m. Tuesday, with first responders finally finding Minish in thick brush around an hour after he’d been attacked. And despite the serious injuries he sustained, Minish would not only guide first responders to his location; he would walk himself away from the attack site, though several people aided in his hike to the nearby trans-Alaska pipeline road so that he could be taken in for treatment.
“One guy walked in front, I walked, and the buddy of the fire chief walked behind me, and I walked out the quarter mile to the road,” he said. “And I was not in good shape.”
A medical team was standing by and redid all of Minish’s bandages, he said, before he was taken to the Gulkana Airport. A trooper dispatch that initially lacked extensive detail noted Minish was then flown to an Anchorage hospital for injuries he sustained in the mauling, which took place about a half mile from the Richardson Highway.
Minish remained hospitalized as of late Wednesday evening, but said he expected to be released as early as Thursday afternoon.
A spokesperson for Providence Alaska Medical Center, where Minish was being treated, had said Wednesday afternoon that Minish was in good condition, but did not elaborate. Minish himself will tell you he’s just fine: he even plans to go back to work this coming Monday, less than a week after the near-fatal attack.
“Male bear, wasn’t doing anything wrong, just walking, 2 to 3 feet at the shoulder,” Minish reflected. “Four to six years old, brown bear. And it was just, wrong place, wrong time for me and the bear. And everything happened so fast.
“Maybe I should’ve been wearing bells,” he added, “but my GPS is always squawking so loudly so much, I usually don’t think about it.”
Minish also said that he had trouble sleeping Tuesday night, haunted by visions of the mauling, but that he is trying to stay in good spirits and even cracks jokes with his nurses when they come in.
“I’m trying to keep it upbeat as much as I can; I try not to wallow in pity,” he said. “It doesn’t do me any good since I decided I was going to live. So that was it.”
Troopers have reported that the bear fled the area after mauling Minish.
For more information, check out this State of Alaska Fish and Game guide, which includes videos and written guidance to help people stay safe while living or recreating in bear country.
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