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Nick's story

Bear attacks are rare, but they do happen


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The Attack

The story of Nick's survival, of that dreadful night, is documented in the annals of bear attacks in North America. In the last 100 years or so there have been only a handful of survivors of what is called a "true predator attack," and my son is one. His story is also the stuff of nightmares and legends; where do you hear of a sleeping child being dragged off by a wild animal to be eaten? In the Old Testament? In darkest African jungles? Not, surely, at one of the thousands of wonderful camps that forms the backbone of summer memories for generations of kids. But that is what happened to Nick.

After a day of canoeing and portaging, and then carefully piling all the food and treats into the boats, which were in the water safely down the beach from the tents, Nick and seven other little boys fell deeply asleep, their two counsellors nearby in another tent. And at one o'clock in the morning, under a half moon, a 315-pound (143 kilograms) predator-black bear lumbered into the campsite, trampled the counsellor's tent and then, tore open the tent that Nick was in, sunk its teeth into his leg and dragged him out across the rocky campsite.

My son woke up, literally, in the jaws of death.

I want to tell Nick's story now partly in light of this summer's fatal bear attack in nearby Lillooet, and partly because since moving to Squamish and spending time in Whistler, I have often been concerned with what I can only call reckless and possibly dangerous attitudes towards black bears. Additionally, for someone to survive a bear attack, a few things have to start going right immediately after the initial event, and perhaps some of that information will be helpful to others at some future time.


Surviving the Attack

The first thing that went right for Nick was having an extraordinary young man, Mike Hildebrand, on his trip. He was one of the two amazing counsellors with the kids. When the bear began its rampage it started with Hildebrand and fellow counsellor Michelle Hayes's tent. The bear's attack left them trapped inside, but rather than staying frozen in fear they searched for their knives and other emergency equipment and worked to free themselves.

Mike quickly slashed open the tent, rushing out with a can of "bear mace" in his hands, which instantly proved useless. He told me later that he didn't know that humans hands could shake the way his were shaking at the time of the attack, and he has never been able to make them shake that way again, and so, unable to gain control of his fine motor skills, he quickly threw the mace aside and ran to the water to grab a canoe paddle - something to wrap his shaking hands around and hopefully, become a weapon. The other thing that went right for Nick was that although it was quite dark under that half moon and Mike couldn't clearly see which boy the bear had, he heard Nick call out, "get it off me!" and recognizing his voice immediately started calling him by name.