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Man who survived bear attack: ‘It was surreal’

Anthony Blasioli describes the battle he had with a large black bear in a Washington State park on Sept. 2 that left him with serious injuries.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

A little more than two weeks after being badly mauled by a black bear while riding his bike in a park in Washington State, Anthony Blasioli says he wants to ride the trail again — this time with more than his two dogs as sentries.

“I’ll probably go back, maybe with a group of people,” Blasioli told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer via satellite Wednesday. “I want to go back again — if my arm will work. I don’t know if it’s going to work, yet.”

Blasioli, 51, lost part of his right ear and his lip was almost torn from his face during the unprovoked Sept. 2 attack. The bear, which has not been tracked down by wildlife officials, also mauled his back and tore his left arm so badly doctors initially feared it might have to be amputated.

While talking from Washington with Lauer, Blasioli showed off his ear and lip, which have healed, but his left arm hung in a sling at his side.

The attack took place in Banner Heritage State Park in Kitsap County, Wash. Blasioli, a software engineer with Boeing, was riding his bike on a trail that he often visited with his two German shorthaired pointer dogs.

Local park regulations require dogs to be leashed, and some have suggested that the dogs, which were trotting ahead of Blasioli, may have provoked the bear. He denies that.

“Unprovoked,” he said of the attack. “It was a normal ride. The dogs are usually ahead and they kind of warn me sometimes if there’s another rider — horseback riders are there.

“And so I had one or two barks ahead of me that kind of warned me. So I stopped. I got off the bike to see who it was, to either step aside for horses, and then the bear just suddenly appeared,” he said.

When Blasioli dismounted the bike, he stood beside it. When he saw the bear immediately in front of him and coming at him, he backed up, shielding himself with the bike, which was damaged by the bear.

'It was surreal'Lauer observed that some advise people attacked by bears to play dead but added, “I’ve always thought if a bear is biting me, I’m not going to just play dead.” He asked Blasioli if playing dead occurred to him.

“Not in the least,” he said. In an earlier interview with NBC News, he said, “I was upside down and I actually remember kicking him in the face a little bit. It was surreal.”

To Lauer, he added, “it was just an incredible thing to think that all of a sudden I was being eaten by a bear, and I was definitely coherent when that was happening. You can’t just go limp because you’re fighting for your life at that point.

“He bit right through the helmet and got my ear,” he said. “I had my lip hanging out, and I’m lucky I didn’t lose my nose and face.”

When the bear broke off the attack, Blasioli managed to get back on his bike and pedal back down the trail, leaving his dogs, which he had lost track of, to fend for themselves; neither dog was injured.

He met other bikers, who helped call emergency personnel who transported him to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.

Attacks on humans by black bears, which are smaller and considered to be less aggressive than grizzly and brown bears, are rare and fatalities rarer still, but such incidents have been increasing in recent years as the bear population grows.

More attacks occur in Canada, but in the United States, according to various Internet resources, five people have been killed since 2000 by black bears in attacks that have occurred in New York, Tennessee, New Mexico and Utah.

Now released from the hospital, Blasioli told Lauer, “I’m doing better. There are moments when it’s pretty hard — I get emotional. But I think I’m getting healed up. My arm doesn’t work yet, but it’s getting better.”