Lani Vin Zant picked up her ringing phone in Wasilla late Wednesday night. The only thing on the line was her 15-year-old daughter Andria, sobbing.
" 'Mom there's a lady and she was attacked. Dad scared the bear away," Andria choked out. "There's so much blood."
Moments before, Vin Zant's husband, Robert, had scared off a brown bear as it attacked Abi Sisk, 21, a Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge housekeeper, working in Alaska for the summer. Sisk was badly mauled and spent Thursday in surgery at Providence Alaska Medical Center. She was listed in critical condition Thursday evening but was expected to survive.
Alaska State Troopers said Robert Vin Zant, a gas plant operator for BP in Prudhoe Bay, probably saved her life.
Vin Zant and his daughter were rafting on Thursday, but Lani Vin Zant told the story she heard over the phone as it happened.
Andria and Robert arrived at the Kenai Princess in Cooper Landing after 10 p.m. on Wednesday, she said. After parking, Robert heard what he thought was laughing in the woods nearby. It quickly turned to screams. He followed the sound. Yards away from the lodge, on a trail, he could make out the hulking form of a brown bear standing on the body of a young woman.
The bear had her head in its mouth.
WET WITH BLOOD
Sisk came to Alaska this summer because she wanted adventure, her father Stan said Thursday by phone from the family home in Logan, Utah. The younger of two children, she worked as a cleaner at a local hospital, saving money for college, singing on Sundays at church. Her parents encouraged her to take the job so she could get out of the small town where she grew up.
Just days before, she'd called her parents and complained that she was the only person around who hadn't seen a bear.
As soon as he saw what was happening, Vin Zant hollered at his daughter to call 911 and get his gun from the car, Lani Vin Zant said.
Andria ran inside the lodge for help and gave her father his gun. Then she called her mom.
Mom stayed on the phone with her for an hour.
Robert Vin Zant tried to make himself loud and big to get the bear off Sisk, he told his wife.
"He put his hands out and came running at the bear as fast as he could. The bear went up on his hind legs looked at him, and then the bear dropped again, back to all fours, like it was contemplating dinner," said Lani Vin Zant.
Vin Zant charged the bear again and it ran off. Sisk lay on the ground, her scalp torn and her brown hair wet with blood.
PURRING IN THE BUSHES
At home in Logan, the Sisks got word that their daughter had been attacked by a bear and had a major scalp injury. Doctors were trying to stop the bleeding.
"We were praying at 3, 3:30 in the morning that her life would be spared," Stan Sisk said.
Then the phone rang again. It was his daughter. She was groggy but talking.
She'd been heading home from a hike, her father said. She bent down to look at a flower.
"She heard something purring in the bushes," her father said.
Then the bear was on her, ripping into her. She went limp, trying to play dead. The bear let go. She waited. The lodge was so close. She started to move. She hadn't waited long enough. The bear was on her again. That's when Vin Zant heard her scream.
'TELL MY MOM I SAW A BEAR'
Dan Michels, the lodge's general manager, got to Sisk within minutes of the attack. It was raining. She was already circled by emergency personnel, who were trying to stop the bleeding from her head.
She'd been bitten in the buttocks and leg as well, her father said.
A helicopter couldn't get into Cooper Landing because of the crummy weather so Sisk had to go by ambulance to Soldotna where she was flown to Anchorage, Michels said.
"Obviously there's going to be some trauma," he said "There was a little bit of shock."
Sisk has a beautiful singing voice, Michels said. She would sing while she made beds and people often would stop to listen. She also has a great sense of humor, he said.
"Tell my mom I saw a bear," she joked, as the EMTs were taking her away.
Sisk's mother flew into Anchorage Thursday, her father said.
Abi is expected to be in the hospital for a week at least, Michels said.
"She literally had a large portion of her scalp ripped off," her father said. "By the time they got it back on, (the doctor) is dubious whether it's gonna take."
WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME
Bears are common around the lodge in the summertime, especially at night, Michels said. All the employees go through bear training and, though some trash isn't in bear-proof cans during the day, all trash is locked behind an electric fence at night, he said.
Larry Lewis, Fish and Game wildlife technician, walked the trails Thursday with troopers but found no sign of the bear. Cooper Landing has more than its share of human/bear encounters in the summer, in part because of the large number of seasonal visitors and the great bear fishing in the shallow streams off the Kenai River, he said.
The bear was likely surprised by Sisk. She was by herself and probably wasn't making a lot of noise, he said. The bear was acting to eliminate a threat. It was a little unusual because Sisk was so close to the busy lodge.
" I'm sure she felt safe there, I would have felt safe there, " Lewis said. "It's just a bad situation. It's pretty classic wrong-place, wrong-time."
This is the second bear mauling of a seasonal worker at the Kenai Princess in recent memory. In 2005, another 21-year-old employee was grabbed by a bear and dragged, but she fought furiously and escaped injury.
Once Abi Sisk was on the way to the hospital, Vin Zant took the phone and talked to his wife. He said he was covered with blood and very shaken, she said.
"I heard someone come up to him and thank him for his help. He said he just did what he thought anybody would do."
Find Julia O'Malley online at adn.com/contact/jomalley or call 257-4591.