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A young California woman who survived a grizzly bear attack while running on a military base road near Anchorage, Alaska, has provided an interview regarding the incident. 12 days after being mauled by a bear 25-year-old Jessica Gamboa, wife of a soldier stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, spoke to military officials about the attack, which she said she survived by playing dead.
Gamboa was training for a half marathon on a remote road that is popular with bicyclists and runners, who are cautioned to carry pepper spray. The base spreads over 74,000 acres and is full of moose, bear, and wolves, although only a few miles from Alaska’s largest city.
The California woman started the run with her husband, but he had run on ahead and was unaware that the attack had occurred. The grizzly was a sow with cubs, considered one of the more dangerous types of Alaska wildlife. Gamboa first saw one cub, then a second, and said her first thought was where the mama bear was. She slowed down and looked to her left, where she saw the mother grizzly already coming toward her at a fast trot. Unsure of what to do at that point Gamboa held out her hands in front of her to try and let the bear know she was harmless, although she acknowledged that this obviously communicated nothing to the angry bear.
Gamboa turned her back and the bear knocked her down. She played dead as the bear mauled her, at one point picking her by either the thigh or buttocks and carrying her across the road. After more slapping and biting the bear left. The California woman told Alaska military officials she was sure, as she lay on the ground waiting to see if the grizzly would return, that she would not survive the attack, and this was how she was going to die.
Severely injured, Gamboa made it to her feet and started to walk back to her car, holding her throat to stem blood that she could feel “pulsing out of her neck.” As she limped down the road a car containing senior Army medic Sgt. Collin Gillikin stopped and picked her up. He said in another interview with military authorities that he originally thought Gamboa was covered with mud, but then realized it was blood caked with dirt. He put her in his truck and rushed her to the hospital, while calling 911 on his cell phone.
After being treated at the military hospital, Gamboa was transferred to Anchorage’s Alaska Native Medical Center, which is one of Alaska’s top trauma centers. She is still hospitalized there, kept on blood thinners while a clot in her head is monitored. Her injuries include a neck fracture, gashes on her head, right thigh, and under her arm, and puncture wounds all over her body. Gamboa said in the interview that almost all of her ear had to be reattached.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska has about 30,000 brown bears statewide. Grizzly bears and brown bears are classified as the same species, but the larger coastal bears are usually referred to as “brown bears” and inland and northern bears are considered “grizzlies.” Although it varies with the season, grizzlies weigh between 500 and 900 pounds, with extremely large males weighing as much as 1,400 pounds.
The California woman said it seems surreal that she survived a grizzly bear attack in Alaska, saying she cannot believe it actually happened. She said it all happened so fast that she could not even be sure if the bear was clawing or biting her, and she completely surrendered.
By Beth A. Balen