Tamara Hynd/Fernie Free Press
Brian Braconnier and Keith Farkas are very fortunate to be at home with their families tonight after a close encounter with a grizzly.
“We are so thankful we’re sitting here, the two of us, making these statements,” said Farkas. “Rather than our wives writing our obituaries.”
The two Fernie men who were attacked by a grizzly bear on Wednesday morning shared their story at a press conference late Thursday evening. Both men, in their mid thirties, were hiking along a basin heading for the side of a ridge with heavy elk trails on Mount Proctor when a mother grizzly attacked. The men said what happened in 30 seconds seemed like an eternity.
“I heard a growl and then we heard a second growl,” said Farkas. “Before we could even react, the grizzly was on us. She hit Brian in the back, knocked him over, took him downhill and out of my sight behind some shrubs. I couldn’t see what was going on. I could just hear him screaming my name and the bear growling. I saw a cub following her downhill and it was also growling. That’s when I reached for my (defender) shotgun that was strapped to the outside of my pack.”
“She hit me four times in total,” explained Braconnier. “On the third time, she grabbed my arm with her mouth and flung me through the air. When I landed, I grabbed my pepper spray. When she came at me again, she was at an arms distance as I used the bear spray on her. It deterred her but she still ran me over. In two lunges she was back up the hill towards Keith. I could hear him screaming but I couldn’t see a thing.”
Farkas continued, “I was fumbling with the straps on my backpack trying to get the gun off. I was fumbling with the shells trying to load my gun. I managed to load a shell. I saw her paws. I took one shot. She stood up and seemed to writhe in pain like the shot had connected with her. Like lightening, she was around a corner and coming at me airborne from above. She clawed me and pushed me back. I landed on my back in the most terrifying position with my head downhill and my feet uphill. I was screaming. Her face was one foot away from my boot and she turned around and left.”
“We knew we had to get out right away,” said Braconnier.
They grabbed Farkas’s backpack that the bears had dragged a few meters down the trail. The men left in the same direction they had come, looking over their shoulders in fear that the grizzly was coming back.
“We got to a safe zone,” said Farkas. “I was bleeding badly. I took off my shirt and put on bandages. I took a look at Brian’s hand. He had three cuts so I bandaged him too. Brian couldn’t see a thing. The pepper spray had hit him, the bear and me. Brian was practically blinded by the spray. We had an ok field (first aid) kit. I knew his wounds were worse than mine but I didn’t say anything to him. I just bandaged him up and said, ‘Come on. Let’s get going.'”
“I knew right away this was an extreme situation,” said Farkas. “I knew we had get down the mountain. We had to get home safe and I knew we had to go to the hospital.”
What normally takes them two hours to hike, took them one hour to get down the mountain.
When asked what they might do differently, Braconnier stated he would be more cautious of noises while Farkas said he will practice loading a shotgun as if it were a timely, stressful situation.
Both men look remarkably healthy but their wounds are deep both emotionally and physically. Braconnier suffered injuries to his arms, legs and right wrist. Somehow her teeth managed to miss the main vein in his wrist by millimeters when she threw him through the air. His legs are scratched and bruised from being ” bounced around” by the bear.
Farkas has puncture wounds on both arms from the bear’s claws so large that you could stick your finger into them. His left arm is swollen from the impact and it does not have full range of motion yet.
“Both gentlemen did nothing wrong,” said CO Sgt. Joe Caravetta. “They’re smart. They were prepared. They had different levels of defense and they had a gun that wasn’t even loaded. The men were not hunting. They were out for a walk to do some scouting for their next elk hunt this fall.”
“Three conservation officers looked for the grizzly for two days and we were unable to find any evidence that the bear had been seriously injured,” said Caravetta. “We searched that area with a fine-toothed comb and no blood was found. It’s possible that the bear got hit and it’s possible that it didn’t.”
COS closed their investigation at 6 pm on Thursday.
The Fairy Creek and Mount Proctor Recreation area remains closed but will reopen Friday morning.