The story of an Alaskan miner who fought off a grizzly bear for several days in July before being rescued by a Coast Guard crew who spotted his distress signal might be nothing more than a tall tale, say some residents of Nome familiar with the incident.
The harrowing story of how Richard Jessee survived constant attacks from a bear that appeared to be stalking him captured the eyes of the media, with dozens of news outlets sharing his story and the drama of man versus nature.
However, the Nome Nugget reported that people have come forward claiming that there were no bear prints near the shack Jessee took refuge in and that the man might have made up the story to cover the fact that he might have just accidentally stranded himself there.
A Coast Guard crew spotted Richard Jessee in a remote mining camp, pictured, 40 miles from Nome, Alaska, and waving both arms in a plea for help
A Coast Guard chopper spotted Jessee standing near a shack with the words ‘SOS’ and ‘help me’ scrawled on its tin roof.
The Coast Guard crew was on its way to Nome, Alaska from Kotzebue when they spotted him
According to an anonymous source known to the Nome Nugget, several miners and the owner of the cabin Jessee stayed at went out to the scene of the incident and could not find a single bear track within 500ft. of the cabin Jessee took shelter in.
‘There’s no hair, no tracks, no scat, nothing,’ one of the miners said. ‘He made a fool of us all.’
The lack of prints were especially odd given that the region had gone through heavy rainfall when the incident supposedly took place, which would leave the ground muddy and perfect for leaving prints.
The owner of the cabin added that he has never had issues with bears near his property.
The group also found Jessee’s ATV without a single claw mark despite Jessee’s claim that the bear attacked the vehicle and pushed it into a waterhole.
The only marks they did find on the vehicle were located around the front and back edge of the ATV, which they say could only have been caused by a bear if the animal had only one claw.
Some of the miners now believe that Jessee had actually crashed his ATV and was stuck without a way to get back. They think he might have been too embarrassed by the incident and lied about the bear attack.
They can believe what they want,’ Jessee told the Nugget. ‘I was there. I know what happened. I haven’t been that scared in a very, very long time.’
Jessee claimed he had been terrorized by a grizzly bear, like the one pictured, who dragged him down to a river and kept coming back to his shack every night for a week
He was airlifted to Nome in an MH-60 helicopter, like the one pictured
Discrepancies in the harrowing story
- Fellow miners could not find bear prints within 500ft. of where the incident supposedly took place
- Heavy rain in the area would make it ideal to leave behind prints in mud
- The ATV that the bear attacked displayed no claw markings
- Ambulance chief found no animal bites of bleeding on Richard Jessee
- Although there are bears in the area, experts say its rare for someone to encounter the same one more than once
According to the New York Times, the aircrew out of Coast Guard Station Kodiak changed its route to Nome, Alaska from Kotzebue by about a mile to avoid some clouds, when Lt. AJ Hammac saw the man stumble out of the shack – something he said he is not used to seeing in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he is based.
‘He said, ‘Hey, there’s a guy down there and he’s waving at us,” Lt. Cmdr. Jared Carbajal, who has been with the Coast Guard since 2009, recounted to the Times.
‘I said ‘Is he waving with one hand or two hands?”
When Hammac said it was both hands, Carbajal said he told his three crew members ‘Well, that’s usually a sign of distress.’
Hammac agreed, saying: ‘He was kind of struggling.
‘When we came around he was on his hands and knees waving a white flag,’ he told the Times, noting that the man’s leg was taped.
‘We didn’t get a lot of details from him at the time, just that he said he had a bear encounter,’ explained Carbajal. ‘We really weren’t too concerned about the details —we just wanted to make sure we got him to care, because he definitely seemed to be in some sort of distress.’
‘We were told to get a man who had been mauled by a bear,’ added Jim West Jr., the Nome Volunteer Fire and Ambulance chief. ‘He walked off the helicopter and walked into the ambulance. He had no animal bites and wasn’t bleeding.’
Danielle Rivet, a PhD candidate studying bears at the University of Saskatchewan, did, however, say it is possible to walk away from a bear attack without any cuts or bites.
She said it was possible the bear was defending her territory from Jessee and kept returning to him to check if he’d finally leave.
And Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Aileen Witrosky added that there were a lot of bears in the area.
A 2019 report by Alaskan health officials states that 68 people were hospitalized for injuries sustained in 66 bear attacks between 2000 and 2017, Ten people died.
But Petty Officer Ali Blackburn, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard in Alaska, said it is unusual for a person to have several encounters with the same bear.
What to do if you encounter a bear
- Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
- Stay calm and remember that most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by wooﬁng, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won’t be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
- Pick up small children immediately.
- Hike and travel in groups. Groups of people are usually noisier and smellier than a single person. Therefore, bears often become aware of groups of people at greater distances, and because of their cumulative size, groups are also intimidating to bears.
- Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground).
- Do NOT allow the bear access to your food. Getting your food will only encourage the bear and make the problem worse for others.
- Do NOT drop your pack as it can provide protection for your back and prevent a bear from accessing your food.
- If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears. Do NOT run, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down. Like dogs, they will chase ﬂeeing animals. Do NOT climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.
- Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.
- Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs; never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.
Source: National Park Service