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It reads like the plot of a page-turning novel or a thriller or adventure film – a sequel to The Revenant, even, perhaps, the 2016 film where Leonardo DiCaprio plays an American frontiersman and fur trapper left for dead after being mauled by a bear in the early 19th century.
But this was real life in 2021. A man in Alaska was rescued, injured but alive, after enduring repeated attacks by a grizzly bear that kept on returning to his isolated hut in the wilderness, from which he had no way of contacting the outside world.
The unnamed man’s ordeal could well not have ended safely, as he was injured and sleep-deprived and only had two bullets left in his pistol, while staying in a tiny tin shack, according to an account of his ordeal in the New York Times.
The man was finally rescued in a piece of random good fortune when a passing coast guard helicopter that was off its normal course spotted him desperately waving for help and having written SOS and “Help me” on the roof of the flimsy shack.
The man was reported to be in his 50s or 60s and had been alone at a mining camp about 40 miles from the isolated town of Nome on the coast of western Alaska. Nome is the destination of the annual Iditarod dog-sled race, almost 1,000 miles from Anchorage, the US state’s largest city. While at the remote camp, he encountered the bear, which attacked him and dragged him down to the adjacent river.
The man escaped but then endured repeated attacks over about a week. “He said that the bear kept coming back every night and he hadn’t slept in a few days,” Lt Cmdr Jared Carbajal, one of the pilots of the coast guard helicopter, told the New York Times.
He was only spotted when the helicopter had changed its course slightly to avoid some clouds. The chopper spotted the man’s distress and swiftly landed to find him with a bandaged leg and waving a white flag of some kind. The door of his tin shack had also been torn off.
“We don’t really come across people in the middle of nowhere,” said co-pilot Lt AJ Hammac. “He was kind of struggling. When we came around, he was on his hands and knees waving a white flag.
“He definitely looked like he had been out there for a while,” he said.
The helicopter was on its way from Kotzebue to Nome on a mission to take some scientists to search for dead whales, walruses and seals along the coast.
“If we would have been in the next river valley over,” Cdr Carbajal said, “we would have totally missed him.”
The man is now recovering from his ordeal.
Grizzly bears have been coming into an increasing number of conflicts with humans in the American west as the federally protected animals expand into new areas and the number of people living and recreating in the region grows. A person was killed by a bear in Montana in July, and a guide was killed in April while fishing along the Yellowstone national park border in south-western Montana.