Admiralty Island bear attack victim: 'I was getting killed'

Posted: Sunday, December 09, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Kenneth Horton will spend months trying to heal wounds inflicted in five seconds by a brown bear on Admiralty Island.

But the 52-year-old Juneau man carries no grudge against the sow that mauled him to protect her cub.

''I have no hard feelings at all against that bear. It was naturally protecting its baby,'' Horton said from a Seattle hospital where he is recovering.

''I'm just thankful she didn't kill me 'cause she sure could have.''

Horton was hunting deer on the northeast end of the island Wednesday when he had the encounter that nearly cost him his life. He was walking down a bluff on a game trail thick with blueberry brush. When he got to the bottom he saw a 600-pound sow and a cub nearly as big as its mother. The bears saw him, too.

Horton estimated he was about 30 feet away.

''I knew I was in trouble 'cause she didn't look happy,'' he said. ''She immediately took off running right at me, just charged me hard and quick. She was on me in a heartbeat, ears back and low to the ground and coming full bore.''

The bear swatted him on the left side of his face, crushing his cheekbone and tearing out the nerves, he said. Horton fell to the ground and turned on his stomach, covering the back of his neck with his hands.

''She was ferociously attacking me, biting the back of my neck, swatting me and chewing on the back of my head,'' he said.

''She was growling as bones were crunching in the back of my head ... she was tearing me up good. Pieces of my face were flying off. I was getting killed.''

After five seconds, ''I went 'OK, OK, OK,' and she got off me.''

Horton said the bear walked about 10 feet, then stopped and looked back.

''I looked at her too. I guess she realized I was hurt bad enough - that I was no danger anymore,'' he said.

The bears disappeared into the forest, leaving Horton to tend severe wounds.

''I was holding half my face in my hand,'' he said. ''I pulled out a bandana in my day pack, put my face back together and wrapped a bandana around it.''

Horton had a cell phone and a VHF radio. He managed to contact the U.S. Coast Guard with the radio and gave them a rough idea of his location. Then he waited near a beach for help.

''It was in the teens and blowing snow. I thought they better come get me quick,'' he said. ''I felt like I could die.''

Two pilots with Coastal Helicopters joined in the rescue and found him within 20 minutes, said Horton, who was flown to Bartlett Regional Hospital and later medevaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Horton said his shoulder, face and head were ''all mangled'' in the attack. Doctors on Thursday sutured bite holes on the back of his head and repaired nerves ''ripped out'' under his left cheekbone, he said.

''I can't smile too good on that side right now,'' he said several hours after surgery.

Horton said he'll probably stay in the hospital for several days then return to Juneau, where he worked most recently as a rock crusher for Juneau Ready Mix. He still needs reconstructive surgery to repair the damage to his cheekbone.

Horton's long-time girlfriend, Helen Mielke, said she was stunned when she first saw Horton's wounds and considers him lucky to be alive.

''What's done is done. Now it's getting him healed up and getting him back home,'' said Mielke from Seattle. ''He's going to have some scars.''

Then after a pause, ''He'll have some war stories,'' she said.

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