Fayette County

Ky. woman survives grizzly attack in Alaska

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The grizzly bear that attacked Jo Ann Staples inside her tent at a remote camping spot in the Brooks Range on Thursday morning hit her "like a ton of bricks," the 61-year-old Kentucky woman said.

Staples is the wife of the University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy adjunct professor George Staples. The couple live in Pineville, the school's director, Carey Cavanaugh, told the Herald-Leader.

"I was just sitting in my tent on the sleeping bag and packing my pack," Staples said from her hospital bed at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital on Friday, a day after the violent attack that she said left her with a "mangled" right arm and an ear that doctors "put back together."

"I didn't hear anything," she said. "It was like a ton of bricks coming in on me."

Staples was with six other women at the end of a week-long camping and hiking trip on the Okokmilaga River in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, about 250 miles north of Fairbanks. She was packing up to fly out when the bear attacked about 6:30 a.m.

"It tried to drag me out of the tent," Staples said. "When (the bear) started dragging me, I started screaming for Anne and the other ladies."

Her screams woke guide Anne Dellenbaugh and an assistant guide, said Gates of the Arctic superintendent Greg Dudgeon, who spoke with Staples and Dellenbaugh at the hospital on Friday. Dellenbaugh and the other woman, whose name was not known, ran at the bear, yelling.

"That got its attention, and it left (Staples) alone and came toward the other two women."

The women had pepper spray, but they shot it into the ground, not at the bear, Dudgeon said.

"The sound of the aerosol spray and the odor was enough for the bear to turn and amble slowly away."

The women banged on pots and yelled until the bear retreated, Dudgeon said.

"Their quick thinking and their quick actions very likely saved her life," he said of Dellenbaugh and the other woman.

Judging from what Dellenbaugh told Dudgeon and from footprints at the camp, the bear was not especially big, but young and healthy, Dudgeon said.

Two nurses in the group administered first aid, and the women used a satellite phone to call the air taxi that had flown them in.

Pilot Dirk Nickisch praised Dellenbaugh's actions and quick thinking.

"She saved that woman's life," he said.

Staples also suffered injuries to her right leg and left shoulder.

Cavanaugh, at UK's Patterson School, said Staples' husband and daughter flew to Alaska to be with her. The couple had returned to Kentucky last year when George Staples retired as an ambassador in the U.S. Foreign Service, Cavanaugh said.

"After a lifetime traveling around the world for the State Department — with repeated assignments in Africa — the Staples return home to retirement and face this. Thank heavens she's alive," he said.

Based on what he was told, Dudgeon said, the women hadn't done anything to invite the bear into camp.