NEWS

Winnipeg man thwarts polar bear attack with cellphone

09/09/2013 04:27 EDT | Updated 11/09/2013 05:12 EST
Garett Kolsun is grateful to be alive today after his encounter with a polar bear in Churchill Saturday. The Winnipeg man went to Churchill two weeks ago for his job. It was his first time in the northern town.

Kolsun was walking to where he was staying at around 1:30 Saturday morning, when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye.

"As I looked over, I could see a polar bear charging me. It was running full tilt torwards me," he said Monday, his voice still raspy from yelling. "So I turned to try to run to find someplace safe to go. But where I was there was no place to really go."

Kolsun said it was an industrial area, with mainly businesses, and no homes.

"So I turned on the bear and it just kept charging. It came up closer and I started yelling and screaming and trying to raise my arms up to keep the bear away from me as best I could," he said. "I kept running in circles and backwards and yelling, hollering for help and everything else."

He ran up to a bakery, and tried kicking open the front door.

"At that point the bear was basically right on top of me," he said. "I was yelling and screaming, trying to keep it away from me. Throughout all this it had swatted at me a few times and it had bit me."

Kolsun said he was desperate.

"So I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket, turned it on and the screen lit up," he said. "I turned it towards the bear, put it in his face and it stepped back."

It turned the tide.

"When it stepped back, luckily it knocked over a planter. It startled the bear and it turned its head. So when it did, I just ran."

He finally found a house with some lights on outside, and someone home.

He said he doesn't even know who they were. "I was just happy to see some people," he said.

Kolsun called a cab and got checked out at the local hospital.

He said he has two puncture wounds on his hip where the bear's teeth went through his jacket and pants. And it tore his shirt.

"It pawed at me," he said. "It ripped my shirt a few times... I have scratches on my chest, some going down and a couple going sideways."

Kolsun said he's doing fine, a remarkable feat after coming eye to eye with the animal, which he guesses weighed 150 kg.

He downplays the accomplishment, though.

"I'm just a lucky guy who got away from a bear," he said.

His advice on handling polar bear encounters?

"When you're in Churchill, take a cab," he laughed. "Or drive. Don't walk after dark."

Manitoba Conservation said Monday the bear was caught on Saturday and is being assessed.

A government spokesperson seconded Kolsun's advice.

The bears are more active at this time of year, before the ice freezes, she said.

Among the precautions people should take - avoiding walking alone and drive or walk with a group of people.

And do not go out after dark, when polar bears are out.

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