"I just felt a lot of pain in my scalp. ... I thought maybe it was a wild dog," Gabriel Alexander, 16, of Athens, Ohio, told The Citizen-Times this week from a hospital bed. "I was afraid."
Gabriel and his father, Greg Alexander, were in the middle of a camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Saturday. The two were 40 miles into a 50-mile backpacking trip when they took a break, sleeping in hammocks 10 feet away from each other. Around 10:30 p.m. near Hazel Creek in the North Carolina section of the park, Greg Alexander said he was startled awake.
"I woke up to [Gabriel’s] screaming and I saw a bear," he told ABC affiliate WLOS-TV in Asheville, North Carolina. "[It] seemed to have bitten him in the head and was dragging him ... towards the bushes."
Greg Alexander said he fought the bear off and then he and Gabriel, who remained conscious during the attack, hiked five miles to a lake where some campers helped them get to a helicopter.
"I just had to get the bear off of him. ... I think I kicked [the bear] a couple times, and it didn't seem to have any effect," Greg Alexander said. "I just jumped on him and started punching it in the face."
Gabriel Alexander suffered injuries including deep cuts to his scalp and face. He remains at Mission Hospital in Asheville, but is expected to make a full recovery.
"I'm just glad he's alive," his father said.
The park said the Alexanders had properly stored all food and equipment. Park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said a male bear had been caught in a culvert trap Tuesday and euthanized humanely. She said hair and blood samples for DNA had not been returned yet.
Until the park can confirm that the euthanized bear was the one that attacked Gabriel, the spokeswoman said trails and campsites would remain closed. Staffers were also reportedly on site to monitor for bear activity.
"Human safety is our number one concern," Soehn said.