ANCHORAGE, Alaska >> Surviving a 45-second mauling by a grizzly bear was just the first step in an Alaska moose hunter’s trek to survival.
Rescuers who helped 65-year-old Donald "Skip" Sanford of Anchorage say he walked more than an hour back to his camp, was floated down a river and then airlifted about 175 miles to an Anchorage hospital.
Alaska state troopers say the man was hunting about five miles upriver from the Maclaren River Lodge when the bear attacked.
Joe Snyder, one of many people at the lodge who helped Sanford, described him as a "tougher than nails" ex-Marine and a Vietnam veteran.
Hunting companion Monty Dyson told the Anchorage Daily News that Sanford walked away from their camp Monday afternoon to find a hand-held radio he had lost.
Sanford told rescuers the bear was about 75 yards away when he first saw it. Then the animal was charging and he just had time to fire one rifle shot before the bear grabbed him.
The grizzly bit Sanford’s head, tearing an ear and leaving deep wounds at the base of his skull. The bear’s claws dug into Sanford’s back.
Dyson turned his own radio on when he heard the shot.
"He was just mumbling. ‘Monty, a bear got me. A bear got me,’ " said Dyson, who started walking toward the sound of the shot and found his friend covered in blood.
"Skip said he remembered his head being in the bear’s mouth, just going at him," Dyson said. "All he could do then was pray to the Lord that the bear would let go." It did, after what Sanford estimated was about 45 seconds.
Dyson radioed his son, Chad, 22, to prepare a boat to float down the river.
Along the way, they met more hunters who used a satellite phone to call troopers, who called the lodge. Snyder and another man set out in a jet boat to meet them.
"Skip was laying flat in the small boat, with severe bleeding, shivering, probably going into shock at that point," Snyder told the newspaper.
They loaded Sanford into the jet boat, started first aid and rushed him to the lodge.
Alaska state troopers’ spokeswoman Megan Peters said her agency asked the Alaska Air National Guard for help due to the remote location and severity of the injuries.
The Air Guard dispatched a helicopter, which flew Sanford to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
Sanford was listed in fair condition late Tuesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Dyson later found Sanford’s backpack, which he’d dropped during the mauling, about 30 yards from a moose carcass.
"That bear was protecting a moose kill that he had there, and Skip just came up on it, and I think that’s probably why the bear attacked him," Dyson said.