ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Jessica Gamboa grew up hearing you should play dead during a bear attack, and she put that knowledge to the ultimate test when she ran into a brown bear on a military base in Alaska.
The bear knocked her down, picked her up and threw her, then
pummeled her several times more with her powerful paws.
Throughout the May 18 attack, Gamboa lay silent in a fetal position; that action likely saved her life.
“I actually can’t even believe this actually really happened,” the 25-year-old woman said in a videotaped interview released Thursday by the Army.
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In the interview taped Tuesday at her hospital bed, Gamboa said she surrendered herself to the bear during the attack at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson after she encountered the animal and two cubs. Gamboa, of Sacramento, Calif., is married to a soldier at the base.
The Army also released an interview with Sgt. Collin Gillikin, a combat medic, who rescued her after the mauling, which left Gamboa with lacerations to her neck, arms and legs, a torn ear and neck fractures.
Gamboa responded as she should have, said Mark Sledge, senior conservation law-enforcement officer at the base. Her actions showed the bear she wasn’t a threat.
The day of the attack, Gamboa and her husband were jogging on
base when they became separated.
About 20 minutes into her run, Gamboa saw a cub beside the road. She knew the mother had to be around and there it was, trotting toward her. She also saw the second cub. It all happened so fast she’s not sure if she was being bitten or lashed.
She remembers the sow knocked her down, picked her up and carried her to the side of the road where the cubs were. The bear flopped her down on a grassy embankment and pummeled her, paused and attacked two more times while Gamboa lay curled in a fetal position.
And then the bear left.
Gamboa laid there for a couple of minutes then crawled out of the embankment and rested some more. There was blood everywhere, her head hurt and her neck was pulsing.
“I felt completely like I was beaten half to death,” said Gamboa.
Holding both hands to her bleeding neck, she started walking back on the road. Then she saw a car, driven by Gillikin. The soldier rushed her to the base hospital, and she was later transferred to an Anchorage hospital.
She was released Thursday.
Gillikin said the experience changed his life.
“It kind of made me realize there’s something bigger than myself out there,” he said.