Cool thinking saved bear-attack victim
When Alaska endurance cyclist Peter Basinger rode past the mountain bike dumped in the bushes along a Far North Bicentennial Park trail early Sunday morning, the thought of a horrific bear attack never even crossed his mind. But that's what had happened to 15-year-old Petra Davis.
ANCHORAGE — When Alaska endurance cyclist Peter Basinger rode past the mountain bike dumped in the bushes along a park trail early Sunday morning, the thought of a horrific bear attack never even crossed his mind. He remembers thinking only that someone must have paused to dart into the woods for a bathroom stop.
Then he came upon a person sitting in the middle of the Rover's Run trail.
"They just turned around and said, 'Bear,' " Basinger said this week.
The person on the Far North Bicentennial Park trail was 15-year-old Petra Davis. Basinger has known her almost her whole life. He coached her in skiing when she was in Anchorage Junior Nordic.
Now, he did not even recognize her. She had a face left unidentifiable by a mask of blood.
Davis motioned behind herself in the direction of the Gasline Corridor near the Hilltop Ski Area.
Basinger doesn't know why, but he thought she was warning that the bear was still nearby. He picked Davis up and ran down the trail toward a stand of cottonwood trees.
"It felt safer to be out of the zone," he said.
Then he started trying to figure out what to do next. He knew he couldn't carry Davis to the staging area for the 24-hour race in which they had both been riding. That was a couple of miles away. He didn't want to go back toward Hilltop because he thought the bear might still be there.
"She handed [a cellphone] to me," Basinger said. "She had it in her hand. I thought, 'Oh, thank God, we have a phone.' " He put her feet up to help against shock, cradled her head and dialed 911.
He got a recorded message that the phone couldn't connect to the number.
When the second call also wouldn't go through, Basinger called old friend Greg Matyas, one of the organizers of the bike race. Matyas was helping to man the aid station on Elmore.
"I told him to call 911, Petra's been mauled by a bear," Basinger said.
Basinger and Matyas have ridden the trails in Bicentennial and Hillside parks for a long time. It was easy to explain to him exactly where he and Davis were.
Matyas and a volunteer emergency-medical technician (EMT) took off toward the attack scene, called 911 and gave dispatcher's Davis' cell number.
"911 called me back," Basinger said. "I started trying to explain to them where we were."
It wasn't easy. The park is a maze of unlit dirt trails through the woods. Access to that part of the park is from multiple trailheads. At some point, Basinger realized Anchorage Fire Department personnel were being dispatched to the wrong location. He tried to explain where he was, as dispatchers gave him first-aid advice.
"They were telling me to put pressure on where she was bleeding," Basinger said. "I kept trying to tell them there was blood everywhere, and it was dark."
A miracle he found her
Another bike racer, Will Ross, rolled up and offered help. Basinger figures he and Davis might have been on the ground for 10 minutes by then.
"I see a bike laying down in a bush," Ross said. "Then I see Peter's bike in the trail with the light still on. I ride a little farther and I see Peter holding Petra, though I didn't know it was Petra.'"
Ross said his first thought was that there had been a serious bike crash. Then Basinger yelled that there had been a bear mauling.
Ross said Basinger told him to go for the South Bivouac Trail head, up a steep hill a few hundred yards away. Meet the paramedics and guide them in, he said.
"He tells me to make lots of noise," Ross said. "We didn't know where the bear was."
Basinger said he thought for a minute that he'd just sent Ross, a college student home for the summer, "back through where the bear attacked, but he didn't hesitate."
Ross said he was pedalling madly for the trailhead, screaming at the top of his voice, when he saw red flashing lights go roaring past on the road. As he arrived in the parking lot, he said, he ran into Matyas and the EMT.
As Matyas and the EMT took off down the trail and over the hill to Basinger and Davis, Ross went out in the road to flag down the Fire Department as it headed back up the hill from the wrong trailhead.
Then, he said, they all waited for Anchorage police to arrive to provide an armed escort to the scene of the mauling.
"It was a little frustrating" to wait, he said, but noted he felt a lot better going back on the trail with a shotgun-armed patrolman at the front and back of every group.
Basinger said he made his first contact with dispatchers at 1:37 a.m., and by 2:18 paramedics had Davis' bleeding controlled, her body lashed to a backboard, and were carrying her across a bridge toward the waiting ambulance. Basinger went to join police who were intercepting other bike racers coming down the Spencer Loop Trail and directing them off the race course toward South Bivouac.
Matyas had called an end to the race in its 13th hour.
Suddenly everyone was a lot more interested in Davis' welfare than a bike race.
"It was a miracle that Pete found her," Matyas said. "He knows her. He knows the family. He's very coolheaded."
"A pretty tough kid"
Basinger went to see Davis at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Monday.
"Luckily, she's going to be OK," he said. "She's a pretty tough kid."
But she does face a difficult time. She had to have three surgeries, including emergency surgery to repair a carotid artery that almost caused her to bleed to death. Her recovery is likely to be slow.
Her parents, Mark and Darcy Davis, sent an e-mail to friends and members of the local bike community on Monday describing the injuries and thanking people for their support. They initially asked that her name not be made public but on Monday evening released her name to local media.
Their daughter, they wrote, suffered lacerations and punctures to her neck, right shoulder, torso, buttocks and right thigh.
"The outpouring of love and prayers from you and our community has been incredible," the e-mail said. "We are so appreciative. ... Despite the severity, she is doing very well."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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