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Two Men Survive Separate Bear Attacks

August 8, 1989

Undated (AP) _ A hunter mauled and chewed by a wounded black bear managed to walk out of a forest and drive to a town for help, and a man who waded a river to safety after being attacked by a grizzly bear asked rescuers if his ears were still on.

″I could just hear his teeth grinding against my skull,″ Steve Nordness, 39, said at Everett General Hospital in Washington state. He was released Sunday after being treated for wounds on his head, hands and buttocks that required more than 100 stitches.

In Alaska, Donald Covertson, 32, was in stable condition Tuesday at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital with 1,000 stitches piecing together his ripped scalp, face, neck and ankle. He underwent more than nine hours of surgery.

Both men were attacked Saturday.

Covertson’s family said he was attacked by a grizzly on his way out from checking on land he owns and was not armed. He told a paramedic that he did not hear the bear before it grabbed him.

″The bear had his head in its mouth and shook him,″ said Marge Nord of the Cantwell Volunteer Ambulance. ″It left and came back and shook him again. ... He said he could hear the bones crunching.″

Covertson, of Palmer, waded the icy, swift Chulitna River and fought his way through woods to the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. He collapsed in view of passing motorists, Steven and Betty Ballek of North Pole, who took him to a gas station for help.

″He asked them whether his ears were still on,″ said the Balleks’ daughter-in-law, Nena Ballek. They were still attached.

Gordon Waterman, who helps operate the station, said Covertson was conscious and coherent. He said the bear opened up Covertson’s scalp above his left eye and tore it around the back of his head, in addition to several puncture wounds.

″I don’t know how the guy made it, except he had to be in exceptionally good condition and have exceptional intestinal fortitude,″ Waterman said.

Nordness, of Clearview, Wash., said he shot a black bear in the Beckler River Valley near Skykomish, but the animal, which he estimated at 400 pounds, ran off into trees and thick brush. The state’s bear season opened Aug. 1.

Nordness, who was alone, went to a nearby campground to get help before going after the wounded animal. A young man he remembered only as Kelly agreed to go with him.

About an hour later, Nordness, carrying a .30-06 caliber rifle, spotted the bear charging only a few feet to his left. He fired point-blank into the bear’s chest, but it kept coming and knocked him down.

″Oh God, make him stop, make him stop,″ Nordness said he thought as the bear stood on his back, tearing into him.

Then Kelly ran up, scaring the bear off. Despite his wounds, Nordness walked with Kelly a quarter-mile to his car and drove himself to Skykomish for help.

″I wish I could find the bear that got me. I’d like to have that carcass for a rug,″ he said.

″It could be dead or it could be alive,″ said William Sarvey of the state Department of Wildlife. He said hunters with dogs were not immediately able to find the bear.

Campers were notified of the wounded animal and some decided to leave, Sarvey said. ″With the high brush, it would be foolish just to walk in there,″ he said.

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