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Survivor tried to draw bear away from daughter

By Associated Press
Published September 11, 2005

SEATTLE - Even as Johan Otter felt the grizzly tear at his scalp, he said his greatest concern was for his 18-year-old daughter.

The two were hiking last month in Glacier National Park in Montana when a bear attacked him to protect her cubs.

Otter, of Escondido, Calif., understood the impulse: "Don't get to my daughter," he recalls thinking during the Aug. 25 attack. "Just stay with me."

His daughter, Jenna, came away from the attack with only a bite on the heel, a shoulder injury and facial lacerations.

By the time Otter arrived at Harborview Medical Center here about 10 hours later, his scalp was gone and his skull exposed. He said doctors expect his recovery to take about 10 weeks.

Other injuries from the five-minute attack: five fractured vertebrae, three broken ribs, a fractured eye socket, five major bites over his body and a broken nose, doctors said.

Otter, a 44-year-old physical therapist, spoke from a wheelchair with his head supported by a metal "halo" as part of the treatment of his vertebrae injuries.

He said numerous signs along the trail warned that they were in bear country and that one should tuck into a fetal position if attacked. He said that advice saved their lives.

Otter and his daughter were about 90 minutes into an early morning hike when he saw Jenna take two steps back and heard her say, "Oh, no."

The bear went straight at Otter's thigh and jostled him around. "This bear is right at me and mouth wide open," he said. "You see the fangs, you see the huge claws."

At least one of the claws went into his face and his right eye, he said. After he fell off the trail, Otter said the bear followed him and continued the attack.

Otter curled into a fetal position and wrapped his arms around his head. Still, "I could feel the tooth going in" his head, he said.

After the bear left, Otter and his daughter yelled for help until a hiker discovered them about 45 minutes later.

Dr. Nicholas Vedder, chief of plastic surgery at Harborview, said he was amazed at the "giant teeth marks down the bone" on Otter's body. Still, he said, Otter should make a full recovery.

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