A Denver teen was recovering Sunday after a grizzly bear with cubs mauled him and three other students on a survival skills course in the Alaskan wilderness.
"I thought I was going to die when I was being attacked. I was so scared," Sam Gottsegen, 17, told 7NEWS from an Anchorage hospital bed Sunday evening.
The bear bit Gottsegen deeply in the chest, puncturing his lung and breaking ribs. It also gave him a severe bite on the skull. He was initially in critical condition, but stabilized after surgery Sunday afternoon.
The horrifying attack happened Saturday as Gottsegen and six other teens hiked along a river in the Alaskan backcountry near Chulitna, about 120 miles north of Anchorage. They were participating in a 30-day wilderness survival course run by the National Outdoor Leadership School.
As they hiked, the teens walked into a mother bear and her cubs.
"We saw the first person go around a corner and yelled, 'Bear!' and started running backwards," Gottsegen recalled.
"I looked behind me and the bear was behind me. So, I started running down the hill and it tackled me on the way down," he said.
Gottsegen and 17-year-old Joshua Berg of New City, N.Y., suffered the worst injuries. Two other teens had serious injuries.
Teens Put Survival Training Into Action
After the attack ended, the teens put their survival training into action. The teens activated a personal locator beacon they carried for an emergency. They then gave each other first aid and set up a tent.
"They kind of made a little bandage out of a garbage bag and then we laid in a tent until they came and picked us up," Gottsegen said. "My friend tended to me and two other kids tended to Josh."
Gottsegen and Berg spent nine hours in the Talkeetna Mountains waiting to be airlifted out.
"These teenagers were able to survive the mauling in the first place and then come together, establish a camp," Alaska State Trooper Megan Peters said. "It's remarkable."
State troopers received the beacon signal at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and dispatched a helicopter to the area. The chopper, carrying a pilot and trooper, arrived at 2:45 a.m.
It was decided that Gottsegen and Berg were too badly injured and required a medical helicopter with a paramedic crew, troopers said. The first helicopter transported the four less injured teens to the Talkeetna airport. From there, they were driven by ambulance to the hospital in Palmer, a community about 40 miles northeast of Anchorage, where they were given additional emergency treatment.
A trooper stayed to protect and care for Gottsegen and Berg and a third uninjured teen until the medical helicopter arrived about four hours later, troopers said. The third teen who had stayed behind, 16-year-old Samuel Boas of Westport, Conn., has training as an emergency medical technician, troopers said.
The medical helicopter airlifted the teens to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
Parents Didn't Know If Teen Was Alive Or Dead
Sam's mother, Mindy Gottsegen, had been visiting family in New Jersey when she first got news of the bear attack.
"It just really upset me that I didn't know if he was alive or dead," the mother said.
Then she spoke with a nurse at the hospital.
"The nurse said, 'I want to talk to you about Sam,' and then he said, 'I'm gonna let you talk to Sam,'" Mindy Gottsegen recalled. "I was able to talk to Sam, so that was wonderful. I didn't know until then that he was really OK."
"I asked him how he was and he said, 'Good, considering,'" said Jon Gottsegen, Sam's father.
"What do you say? We're just so thankful he's alive," said Jon.
Both of his parents were on their way to Anchorage Monday to be with their son. They were expected to arrive around midnight, Alaska time.
Joshua Bergs parents issued a statement Monday that said:
"Our son ... continues to improve at Providence Alaska Medical Center and is currently in serious condition.
"Were grateful to the surgeons, physicians and nurses who are caring for our son. We appreciate the efforts of the Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Air National Guard, and Joshs fellow National Outdoor Leadership School students who helped him.
"We are so thankful for the outpouring of love and support from our family and friends."
The other students injured were Victor Martin, 18, of Richmond, Calif., who was taken to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Palmer and released after being treated for a bite wound above his ankle, and Noah Allaine, 16, of Albuquerque, N.M., who remained at the Palmer hospital with unknown injuries. Allaine was listed in good condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman, Margo Wesley.
The teens were in the 24th day of their course when the attack occurred. There was no instructor with them because that far into the course, they've learned enough survival skills, said Wyo.-based NOLS spokesman Bruce Palmer. The company leads many such excursions in Alaska and elsewhere.
Palmer said they haven't had a bear attack in 40 years.
"Our basic goal is that when a student graduates from the NOLS course, they have the experience and background to be able to take other people out into the backcountry," he said. "We're training people to be outdoor leaders, basically."
Calling out to alert bears of human presence and give nearby animals a chance to flee is among the skills learned in the course.
"The students say they were" doing that, Palmer said.
The teens told troopers the 8:30 p.m. attack occurred as they prepared for a river crossing.
Meanwhile, state troopers were flying over the area in an effort to locate the bear.
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