The attack left Minish, 61, with a punctured scalp, a crushed jaw and a (hopefully temporary) eyepatch, as well as a story he’ll never forget.
Minish was surveying a piece of wilderness near Gulkana, Alaska, on Tuesday morning when he and the bear stumbled upon each other. Minish says he was punching numbers into his GPS device when he glanced up and found himself staring down a massive brown bear at a distance of about nine metres (30 feet).
“I saw him and he saw me at the same time,” Minish told the Associated Press from a hospital bed in Anchorage on Wednesday, where he is still recovering from the encounter.
Minish says the bear was easily more than 300 pounds, and that its first reaction was to charge right at him.
Minish tried everything he could to stop the charge. He dodged behind some spruce trees, but the bear just plowed through them. He held out his pointed surveying pole like a spear, but the bear just swatted it away. He tried to flee, but the bear lunged and brought him down.
“As he lunged on top of me, I grabbed his lower jaw to pull him away,” Minish said.
The bear punctured Minish’s hand with its teeth. Then it went for his head.
“He tossed me aside there (and) grabbed a quarter of my face,” Minish said. “He took a small bite and then he took a second bite.
“The second bite is the one that broke the bones … and crushed my right cheek, basically.”
The bear released Minish after the second bite and he did the only thing he could do: he turtled, throwing his hands over his head and huddling face-down.
Minish waited and waited, but the bear did not attack. It simply walked away.
Minish whipped out his cellphone and called 911 for help.
“I was in pretty bad shape because I had all this blood everywhere,” he said. He added that he was able to give the 911 dispatcher his exact coordinates, but it was hard because blood kept running into his eyes and smearing onto the GPS device. “I kept having to wipe it all off,” he said.
He spent the next hour trying to stem the bleeding with his clothes, and jumping at every sound that might signal the bear’s return. He stayed on the phone while he waited and tried not to pass out.
“I kept hearing stuff,” he said. “He didn’t come back, and so I just lay there and worried about it.”
Rescue eventually arrived and Minish was transported to a nearby airport, then airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage for 4.5 hours of surgery.
Doctors told him that the puncture wound in his head was so deep that they could see bone. They also gave him a patch on his right eye, amid concerns that it might be permanently damaged.
Minish says he’s encountered bears many times during his 40 years of working as a surveyor in the Alaska wilderness, but this was the worst encounter he’s ever had, and he admits he might have fared better with some help.
“That’s the one lesson learned,” he said. “I should have had somebody with me.”
He added that he was lucky to survive, but he was also prepared for things to go the other way.
“If it killed me, it killed me,” he said. “I had a good life … It didn’t kill me, so now let’s move on to the other direction of trying to stay alive.”
—With files from The Associated Press