Alaska News

Solo miner recounts dayslong siege by aggressive brown bear near Nome

This article was originally published at NomeNugget.net and is republished here with permission.

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NOME -- Richard Jessee, a longtime summer miner, survived an aggressive bear attack near his cabin July 12.

Jessee was riding his ATV with an attached trailer in the Big Four Creek — near the Casadepaga River, northeast of Solomon — to his cabin when a brown bear pounced on him.

“The bear came out of nowhere,” he said. “It rolled my bike and the trailer over like it was a toy car. I was in shock and hypothermic.”

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The ATV and the trailer sank into the water, and his cellphone went down with them.

After firing a shot at the bear with his pistol, Jessee was able to escape to his cabin, where the bear continued to attack the cabin walls, windows and doors.

“There was no doubt about it: The bear was trying to get into my cabin,” he said. “I don’t know why it was so aggressive. Maybe it had cubs nearby.”

Jessee hid in his cabin for several days waiting for help. He placed a big piece of plywood on the roof reading “SOS” and waited for someone to see it.

“I wasn’t sure of the days; I was in shock,” he said. The bear returned several times while he waited, harassing him and keeping him awake for several days. After four days, help finally arrived when a Coast Guard helicopter flew overhead.

On July 16, Lt. Cmdr. Jared Carbajal was piloting a helicopter for a mission in Nome and took an atypical route due to cloud and weather concerns.

“We were flying near a lot of old mining sites, and my copilot noticed a guy waving at us,” Carbajal said in an interview with the Nugget.

“He was waving two hands over his head, and that’s usually sign of distress, so we turned to fly over to check it out and make sure he was OK. As we came up, we noticed on top of his roof, he had painted ‘SOS HELP ME.’”

The helicopter landed nearby, and Aviation Survival Technician 1 Adam Carr disembarked to check on Jessee.

“I’ll remember that man’s face forever,” Jessee said. “It was traumatic, but I’m glad somebody was looking out for me.”

The crew helped Jessee into the helicopter and examined him for visible injuries. Though he had no visible lacerations, he had several large bruises and a knee injury. When they landed in Nome, he was transferred to an ambulance that took him to Norton Sound Regional Hospital. His doctor told him to stay off his feet for a few days, and on the following Tuesday told him the only thing that would fix him is time.

“He wasn’t mauled, but he did sustain several injuries,” according to Alaska State Troopers Sgt. Aileen Witrosky.

According to Jessee, there were as many as 25 bears spotted in the area around his cabin.

“The big lesson here is that I shouldn’t go out by myself,” he said. “I’ll never do that again. I’m a very lucky man.”

Jessee has been mining in Nome for the last 21 summers, and his cabin is near several of his friends’.

“We had no idea he was there. We just happened upon him on our way to another mission,” Carbajal said. “Had he waved with just one hand, we probably would have just kept going. The fact that he waved with both hands over his head is indicative of distress, which is what prompted us to circle around.”

Jessee’s friends reported him overdue to the Alaska State Troopers on Friday, the same day the Coast Guard crew spotted him.

When planning to leave areas with cell phone service, Carbajal recommends individuals tell friends and family when they leave, and when they expect to return. He also recommends bringing along a satellite device.

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