Father Bears Brunt of Grizzly Attack to Protect Daughter

Sept. 14, 2005 — -- A California man successfully fought off an angry grizzly bear who attacked him and his teenage daughter last month as they hiked through Montana's Glacier National Park.

Johan Otter, 44, and his 18-year-old daughter, Jenna, were about 90 minutes into an early morning hike on Aug. 25 when a giant grizzly bear, protecting her two cubs, attacked.

"So this bear is right at me, mouth wide open and you can see the fangs and the huge claws," Johan told "Good Morning America" today.

"And the main thing going through my mind at that point is 'don't get to my daughter, just stay with me,' " he added.

"It's the most helpless feeling you could have," said Jenna, who watched her father get mauled.

Johan worked to keep the bear focused on him -- as it ripped at his arms and legs.

"At one point, I could feel the teeth going into my skull," he said.

Miraculously, Johan kept Jenna from being hurt much by the bear, which finally turned away and left. Jenna did, however, suffer injuries when she fell off a cliff during the scuffle. She said the bear may have knocked her over trying to get to her father. Still, Jenna will be able to attend her freshman orientation at the University of California at Irvine on Sunday.

"My dad doesn't remember it all, but he was screaming during the whole thing," Jenna said.

Essentially the bear scalped him, and Johan was left with 20 wounds, including broken ribs and a fractured eye socket. Doctors said that if the bear had applied just a bit more pressure on his head, the bear's fangs would have penetrated his brain. Also, he suffered what's called a "hangman's fracture" -- a fracture of the C2 vertebrae -- which is usually fatal.

But somehow, the Escondido, Calif., physical therapist survived.

"That [death] was not going to be an option that day. I had to protect my daughter," he said.

A marathon runner, Johan was in excellent shape, and doctors believe this helped him rebound from this deadly attack. In fact, it's his goal to run San Diego's next marathon, even if he has "to walk part of the way," he said.

As avid hikers, the Otters were well-versed in how to handle bears. They were very loud, which experts recommend to repel a bear attack. But this bear caught them by surprise.

The two also carried "bear spray," which Jenna was able to get out of their backpack. However, it didn't work, she said.