Bear Attack: The Story of Seven Boys and One Grizzly

Seven high school students were near the end of their month-long survival course in the Alaskan wilderness, but the real schooling began when they came face to snout with the wildest thing of all.

By Derek Burnett from Reader's Digest Magazine | June 2012

Bear Attack: The Story of Seven Boys and One GrizzlyCourtesy Sam Gottsegen
“Beacon! Beacon!”

Berg is alive and crawling toward his backpack, which contains an emergency personal location beacon that will signal their GPS coordinates by satellite to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center. Allaire stands wobbily, drenched in blood, and runs to Berg. “Get the beacon,” Berg says.

Melman and Boas come down off the hill to help. Boas cradles Berg’s mangled head in his lap and tells his friend to keep still. None of them has ever used the beacon before, so they wipe Allaire’s blood off the laminated instructions and study them together. There’s a red plastic pull tab that needs to be removed, and it’s stuck fast. They wrestle with it until it breaks. Using Garlock’s beloved lock-blade knife, which he’s dubbed Betsy, they pry free the plastic tab. The beacon slides open, and an antenna unfurls. Someone presses the On button, and the group huddles over the device, watching the LED display to be sure their GPS coordinates have been sent.

Gottsegen has stumbled to a small clearing and fallen there, crying out for help, his torso pierced in several places. When Allaire inspects Gottsegen’s injuries, he’s shocked to discover a sucking chest wound: The bear’s claw has passed between Gottsegen’s ribs and into his chest cavity, collapsing his lung. Now each time Gottsegen draws a breath, he sucks wind through the hole in his torso, the air-infused blood burbling at the surface. If the wound is not properly treated, the other lung will collapse, and Gottsegen will die. Allaire tears apart a garbage bag and flattens a piece of its plastic over the wound, making an airtight seal, then wraps Gottsy’s torso with an elastic bandage and keeps pressure on the dressing—it’s textbook field treatment for such a wound, crucial for stabilizing the air pressure in the chest cavity.

Sam Boas is still holding Joshua Berg’s head, trying to keep his head and back stable in case he’s suffered brain or spinal cord injuries. Berg has been utterly wrecked by the bear. His legs are going numb, his skull is fractured, and the flesh of his head shredded so violently as to render him unrecognizable. He’s bleeding everywhere.

“Get my camera,” Berg says.

“Why?” Melman asks.

“I need to make a video.”

Melman finds the camera and shoots a heartbreaking video of a mutilated Joshua Berg saying a tearful goodbye to his family and friends. “I love you all, and I’m sorry I can’t be with you,” he tells them.

When the video is over, Melman leads Berg in the Shema Yisrael, a Jewish prayer traditionally sung as a person’s last words.

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