THE CANADIAN PRESS — Bleeding from severe lacerations and puncture wounds, his arm broken, Johnny Johnson walked nearly a kilometre to find help after a vicious grizzly bear attack on British Columbia's remote central coast.
Johnson was in stable condition in the intensive care unit at Victoria General Hospital on Tuesday, following the Monday morning attack.
But his survival is nothing short of miraculous for those who saw him and thought the worst.
"It just blows me away that he walked that far on his own to get help," said Rick Yellow Horn, administrator for the Wuikinuxv First Nation to which Johnson belongs. "For him to be able to walk after those circumstances, it's just a miracle. It's amazing."
Yellow Horn, who was among a group that stayed with Johnson as he waited for an air ambulance to reach the community, said the attack took place about 10:30 a.m. near the western edge of Oweekeno, a small First Nations' community of 100 full-time residents about 480 kilometres northwest of Vancouver and accessible only by boat or float plane.
It was the second incident in B.C. in a week involving bears.
On Tuesday, the British Columbia Coroners Service confirmed that a black bear was responsible for the death of Bernice Evelyn Adolph, a member of the Xaxli'p (HAA-clip) First Nation. The 72-year-old's body was found June 30 by a police dog, a couple hundred metres down the hill from her remote cabin near Lillooet, B.C.
Attacks by black bears are far more rare than attacks by the larger grizzlies, however officials say they do happen. Adolph's death is believed to be the third deadly black bear attack since 2000 in B.C.
The coroner said the autopsy results, combined with evidence at the scene and the expertise of conservation officers, show a bear was responsible.
Conservation officers shot four black bears found in the area, and testing is underway to determine whether the bear responsible for the attack was among them.
Like Adolph, Johnson was in a remote area during the Monday morning attack. Yellow Horn said Johnson was on an old logging trail, picking berries, when the attack occurred.
Johnson, who is in his early 50s, suffered lacerations to his head and scalp, puncture wounds to his neck, injuries to his left hip and a broken arm, said Yellow Horn.
Yet somehow, he managed to walk between half and one kilometre to a local residence, where he found someone to drive him to the band's medical centre.
Once he had reached safety and the help of local medical officials, Johnson had to wait two hours for an air ambulance to arrive and fly him to hospital in Victoria.
Inside the medical centre, community health representatives worked for nearly two hours to stabilize him, keeping him conscious and preventing him from going into shock until an air ambulance arrived.
"They can't administer drugs," said Yellow Horn, of the health representatives in the community. "You know, they can only basically assess the situation, apply bandages and compresses where they feel it's appropriate."
Yellow Horn said health workers grew frustrated as they waited for the air ambulance.
"That was probably the worst part for the people that were providing the care is that wait because, I mean, they tell you it's going to be like 45 minutes, but it actually ends up being over twice as long," said Yellow Horn.
At times, said Yellow Horn, he even feared Johnson could die, especially from a loss of blood.
"Because we knew how much he had lost there in the building, but then you think of how long it took him to walk from where he was attacked to that residence and then getting from that residence to the building, you know, that's a lot of blood to lose."
Doug Forsdick, an inspector with the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service, said it's too early to say why the grizzly attacked Johnson. He did say, however, that the grizzly was a sow that was with her cubs.
Forsdick said six members of a predator-attack team are expected to begin an investigation into the attack as soon as they arrive in Oweekeno, expected Tuesday. The team was delayed Tuesday morning because of bad weather.
Yellow Horn said he suspects bad luck and poor salmon stocks are behind the attack. Grizzly bears, he said, are now venturing into communities because they can't rely on natural food sources.
"This fellow was very bear savvy, and he lived here all his life and he knows their behaviour," Yellow Horn said of Johnson. "For whatever reason, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."