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Sitka bear attack survivor recounts mauling, says deckhand’s ‘accurate shooting’ helped save his life

Sitka bear attack survivor recounts mauling, says deckhand’s ‘accurate shooting’ helped save...
Sitka bear attack survivor recounts mauling, says deckhand’s ‘accurate shooting’ helped save his life(Courtesy Jess Coltharp)
Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 7:38 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Sitka resident Jess Coltharp is a technician and vessel captain for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It’s a title he’s held for the past 14 years.

Last month, Coltharp was on a routine work trip with his deckhand, Anthony Walloch, as well as a volunteer named Ethan. The group was out doing a salmon streaming survey just a few hours north of Sitka where they were looking specifically for chum salmon.

“We got there and we walked the entirety of the stream; we counted all the salmon and got to the top and turned around,” Coltharp said.

On the journey back downstream, Coltharp was leading the way when he ended up running into something much bigger than a fish.

“We’d seen a few bears on the way down, but they appeared to have ran off and usually you don’t see them again,” he said.

Coltharp said bear encounters are not uncommon for him on the job, but things were different on this trip.

“I looked over my shoulder to say something to the guys, and that’s when I heard the branches break — and I turned and looked up, and as the branches are breaking, I kind of see this bear kind of materialize out of the dark,” he said.

Before Coltharp even had time to react, he said a brown bear charged at him, causing him to dive to the ground.

“I remember thinking that Anthony was gonna shoot the bear so I wasn’t too worried about the bear killing me as much as I was worried about getting out of the way and taking as little damage in the process,” he said.

The bear started to bite Coltharp’s leg and shake him around, but he said the attack was brief thanks to Walloch, who shot the bear and caused it to release its grip.

“I remember jumping up and telling Anthony, ‘nice shot dude, thanks for saving my life,’ and that’s when I felt the blood go running down my leg — and it’s like ‘oh yeah, this is still kind of an emergency situation and we need to really assess the damage and see how quickly we can get out of here,’” he said.

The trio sent a message to their boss using an inReach phone and a short time later, a Fish and Game pilot showed up to fly Coltharp to a local hospital where his wound was assessed.

“The next morning they did a cleanup surgery, and then we ended up flying to Anchorage to have a doctor up there look at it — and that’s when they stitched it all up and I believe they reconnected part of my lower quad that was severed, and then closed the wounds on both sides,” he said.

Coltharp is on the mend and in good spirits now, but said things could’ve been a lot worse without his deckhand and volunteer.

“I think their presence saved my life, as well as his quick thinking and accurate shooting,” he said.

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