Alaska Excursions

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A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

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Peninsula bear mauling victim describes attack to family

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TRAIL ATTACK: Mom says he was returning to his pickup with two fish.

Doctors spent hours stitching the torn scalp of a Nikiski fisherman who was mauled and dragged by a brown bear Tuesday night near the Swanson River, the man told his family.

As he recovered Wednesday morning in the emergency room at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, William Pfendler, 37, recounted the attack over the phone to his mother, Cindy Pfendler.

"He said he could feel the top of his head was off and he could feel his scalp, just flapping," said Pfendler, who lives in upstate New York.

Troopers said William Pfendler suffered bite wounds to his head, arms and legs. The injuries were not life-threatening, troopers said. Pfendler made no mention of broken bones and the bear did not puncture his skull, according to his mother.

The mauling was reported to troopers at 9 p.m. after Pfendler, torn and punctured, put his fishing pole in his truck and drove to safety, his mother said.

Kenai area wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger placed the attack several hundred yards upstream from where the river meets the Kenai Spur Highway, north of Nikiski. The peninsula is home to a "healthy, viable" population of brown bears, though precise numbers are unknown, he said.

The biologist estimated that bears maul people an average of two or three times a year on the Kenai. In July, a sow protecting two cubs attacked at a trio of 25-year-old mountain bikers on the Resurrection Pass Trail near Hope, leaving all three with superficial wounds.

Pfendler had been fishing by himself Tuesday, a lifetime hobby that pulled him across the country, his mother said.

Cindy Pfendler said her son lives in Boonville, N.Y., but last winter bought land in Nikiski. He'd been building a home in the peninsula town over the summer, she said.

After fishing on Tuesday, he was walking back to his vehicle near the Swanson River when the adult brown bear charged him, according to a troopers report.

Cindy Pfendler said her son remembered every detail. The bear looking at him. The sounds it made. She mimicked the snort her son had made for her over the phone.

At some point Pfendler may have shot at the bear but didn't know if he hit it or not, she said. The bear dragged him what seemed like 30 feet, she said.

Pfendler curled into a ball to protect himself during the attack. Eventually he heard the animal leave.

"I know after the bear left, he grabbed his gun and reloaded it," his mother said.

Pfendler was able to walk to his vehicle and drive himself to a Nikiski firehouse, from which he was taken to the Soldotna hospital, troopers said.

"They spent three hours stitching his scalp up," Cindy Pfendler said. "He sounded really good on the phone. I was so surprised and so happy."

Troopers on Tuesday night searched the Swanson River area -- where people fish for silver salmon and possibly rainbow trout this time of year -- but the bear was gone.

Selinger, the Fish and Game Department wildlife biologist, said he was on his way to the Swanson River on Wednesday afternoon. He planned to look for clues as to why the bear attacked, such as the presence of a nearby food cache or moose carcass it could have been protecting.

"It might have just been a surprise encounter on a dark trail. We don't know," he said.

Cindy Pfendler described her son as a carpenter and taxidermist who does woodwork, making railings and bed frames from logs. Known as Billy to his family, he often visits Alaska to hunt and fish, she said.

Billy drove to Alaska about a month ago in his GMC truck for his most recent visit, she said.

He told his mother he caught two fish the day of the attack. He left them behind, she said, but placed his fishing pole in the back of his truck before driving for help.

Read The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, at Twitter updates: Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.

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