Telling yourself to play dead if you’re ever attacked by a grizzly bear is easy. Actually doing it with a 900-pound monster chewing on your head until you think your brains are falling out is a lot harder.
Just ask Brent Case, the 53-year-old surveyor from Vancouver Island in Canada whose ability not to move while he was being shredded alive saved his life earlier this month. Just how did he manage to play dead when every nerve in his body was screaming in pain?
“I don’t know,” Case told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday from his home, where he is recovering from multiple wounds to his head and arms. “I’m still trying to piece that one together. I was gritting my teeth. I was talking to myself — you know, you try to psych yourself up for something: ‘I can’t scream. I can’t scream. I can’t talk. I have to play dead or I’m going to be dead.’ ”
Case was taking pictures for a surveying job along the remote Bella Coola coastal area of British Columbia, north of Vancouver, on May 3 when he was attacked by the grizzly. A seasoned outdoorsman, he said he’s developed a sixth sense that tells him when he’s being watched by someone or something.
“When I feel there’s something watching me, my hair just goes up on edge,” he told Lauer. On that day, “It went up on my left side. I looked over at my left and here’s the grizzly coming at me aggressively, and I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
‘He’s eating my brains’
Case was holding an ax in his right hand, but the bear was too close and looked too intent on harm for Case to even consider using it. Instead, he dropped it and fell to the ground, curling up in the fetal position and telling himself not to move.
The bear grabbed one arm and tore into it, then took Case’s head in its mouth and shook him, tearing gaping wounds that left his scalp hanging in bloody flaps.
Case related his thought processes to Canadian reporters when he was well enough to talk: “ ‘He's eating my brains. I know it, I can feel it. I hope he gets over it soon.’ I was hurting so bad and I was bleeding all over, I said, ‘I'm going to die.’ ”
At that point, all he wanted was for the bear to finish his business quickly. But after throwing Case into a boggy area and jumping on him a few times, the bear finally backed off. Although the grizzly was still not far away, Case saw his opportunity and, bleeding heavily from his scalp and both arms, he ran in a crouch to his truck, which was parked nearby.
In the truck, he was safe for the moment, but his ordeal was hardly over. Case still had some 15 miles to drive on a rough road to get to help — where he was, there was no way help was going to get to him.
Vieira asked how he managed to drive that distance as wounded as he was.
Will to live
“Here again, your will to live and your life force and what drives you — your will to live is important,” Case said. “What’s important is, I said I don’t want to die and I want to get to safety. Whether that was going to happen or not — it was a gamble — for whatever reason, God was on my side that day.”
Case made it to a gas station, where he pulled in and asked the attendant to call for help. After being stitched back together in a hospital, he was released with some nasty-looking cuts but was otherwise OK. His face wasn’t injured, and with a long-sleeved shirt covering his arms, he looked as if he had never been attacked as he talked to Vieira.
Canadian environmental officers tracked down the grizzly that attacked Case. They shot and killed it, but there are plenty of other bears out there as the population continues to expand. “We're looking at anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 in the black bear population,” an official told reporters after the attack. “The grizzly population is about 17,000. We have pretty much half of Canada's bears just in the one province.”
Undaunted by his brush with death by grizzly, Case said he remains an avid outdoorsman and can’t wait to get back out into the wild. And if he meets another bear, he’ll play dead again.
“I don’t wish this on anybody,” he told Vieira. “[But] playing dead was the right thing to do because I’m here today.”
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