An engineer with a Vancouver logging company thought he was going to die yesterday as a mother grizzly bear tore the flesh of his arm and back, and tried to throw him in the air.
But George Knoll, 41, survived thanks to quick thinking, his work boots and luck.
Knoll, who works with A&A Trading, had been walking through the bush, flagging trees for logging along a creek at Burke Channel near Bella Bella, on B.C.'s Central Coast.
At about 8:30 a.m. PT, he looked up and saw a mother grizzly bear and her cub.
Because of the sound of the rushing water, he hadn't heard the bear and her cub approach through the bush — nor had the bear heard him — until they were just six metres apart.
"I knew I was in trouble, because of the cub," said Knoll from his hospital bed in Vancouver Friday.
'This thing is going to eat me'
Knoll said he tried to run backward and sideways to get away from the bear, but she charged him from below.
"She basically tackled me," he said.
He tried to play dead, curling in a ball with his arms protecting his neck, but her teeth were ripping into the flesh of his arm and back as she tried to toss him "like a rag doll."
"I thought in my head, 'This is it, I'm going to die, this thing is going to eat me,'" he said.
"I thought, 'Oh man, what a shitty way to go … I'm not going to see my daughter and my wife again."
Rotten bear breath
The bear's face was so close to his, Knoll could smell and feel her breath.
"I remember distinctly the bad breath on that bear, smelled like rotten fish. Dirty fur."
Playing dead wasn't working, he realized. "At that point … I thought I better do something, so I kicked her in the face."
Knoll kicked the bear twice in the snout with his caulk boots, the heavy spiked work boots often worn by loggers.
She stopped attacking him immediately, retreating to pace and huff. There was blood on her snout, but Knoll didn't know if it was hers, or his own.
Another lunge, another kick, and the mother bear was gone.
Delirious walk to helicopter
Help came quickly. Knoll radioed his partner to tell him of the attack, and he used a pressure bandage as a tourniquet on his left arm to stop the bleeding.
He remembers being "delirious" walking the 200 metres uphill to a helipad, where the work crew's helicopter airlifted him to Bella Bella, before he was flown to Vancouver.
Sometime on the flight, he was able to call his wife. "I told her I loved her," he said.
Knoll is doing well in Vancouver General Hospital, with puncture wounds but no serious internal injuries, said Sgt. Len Butler of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.
Conservation officers are still investigating, but since the mother bear had a cub with her, they consider the attack to be "defensive" — meaning she wasn't trying to prey on the engineer, and won't be killed.
"He's a very fortunate individual, he's going to be very sore ... but he's a very lucky man," said Butler.
"If the bear wanted to kill the victim, she certainly would have."