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Alaskan woman survives eagle attack

Alaskan woman survives eagle attack

"She never saw it coming. She heard and felt a great gust of wind behind her, and at the same moment, felt painful, stabbing, and pulling around her head. Then, just as suddenly, nothing. Blood started streaming down her face, and through the shock and fear, she knew she had to get help."

Our Dream Sporting Trips writer asked Wanda Violet, winner of the 2015 Story SLAM at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, winner of the Stonesoup Liars People's Choice, and Florida Storytelling Festival Slam Winner, to relate the true story of a brutal eagle attack on a friend of hers. 

Wanda Violet

For about ten years, in the 80’s, my family and I lived in Sand Point, Alaska. Located on the western side of Popof Island, nestled underneath the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula, Sand Point is 600 air miles southwest of Anchorage.

Our island had no bear, moose, or caribou. To get the winter’s supply of caribou, hunters would have to get in a boat and go over to the peninsula where the herds were. We did have a herd of buffalo that was owned by the native corporation. Occasionally there would be a lottery where the native Alaskan residents could go thin the herd. We got some of that meat, and it was wonderful.

We enjoyed watching for whale to pass by on their migrations, and there in the harbor we could see some otter now and then. Oh, and of course, the eagles! There were so many eagles! If you wanted to see them up close, all you had to do was throw salmon heads and scraps in a pile, and after a bit, they would be there by the tens. Otherwise, they stayed off in their homes in the nooks and crannies of the hills away from the humans.

Once or twice a year I would fly into Anchorage to attend meetings, go to the dentist, or just enjoy the city for a few days. On one of those trips, while staying at a friend’s house, my best friend on the island called me to say that a local school teacher, Inge-Lise, had just been medevaced off the island and taken to the Anchorage emergency room.

Someone getting medevaced to Anchorage was not unusual. People got injured on commercial fishing boats, at the cannery, or just ordinary accidents of life, and if our clinic judged it necessary, they would call for a plane to get them to Anchorage. But when she told me what had happened to Inge-Lise, I found it hard to understand.

Inge-Lise and her husband were school teachers on the island. Many summers, during their break, they would travel the world, but this year they had stayed on the island. Just (pronounced the Danish way “yoost”) had taken a job as a deck-hand on a fishing boat, and she was enjoying her time off on the island.

That particular day was meant for being outside. Gloriously sunny and pleasant, this was the type of day that made you love the island more than ever with all its gently rolling fields of tundra that led up to the craggy shorelines and coves.

Inge-Lise wasn’t going to let a day like this go to waste, so she laced up her hiking boots, tied her long blonde hair back with a red bandana, and headed out.

Now, like I said, I wasn’t even on the island that day, so I had no idea what had actually happened. But when I got the call, I hurried to the emergency room to find Inge-Lise, and there she was. Sitting in the middle of a hospital gurney, all alone and looking very forlorn. She was talking to the doctor, and other than some cuts uncomfortably close to her eyes, she looked fine, disheveled, but fine.

She had no family in Anchorage. So when I walked into her exam room, she was glad to see someone she knew. Still clearly stunned from the whole thing, she started telling me what happened.

She had been hiking along the north edge of the island, when she decided leave the bluff area and head back toward town. She was cutting across a field, in the direction of a small cul-de-sac of homes on the outskirts of the village. Out of nowhere, she heard and felt a great gust of wind behind her, and at the same moment, felt painful, stabbing, and pulling around her head. Then, just as suddenly, nothing. Blood started streaming down her face, and through the shock and fear, she knew she had to get help.

She was a short run to the nearest house and ran up the steps crying out for help. She banged on the door, and a young woman answered to find Inge-Lise standing there holding her now bloody face and crying. She jumped into action. Grabbing a towel for Inge-Lise to hold against her face, she gathered up her little child and led Inge-Lise to the truck to drive her across the bumpy, gravel roads to the clinic. Only after she had sat down in the cab of the truck did Inge-Lise start understanding the full picture of what happened.

The sudden wind she felt and heard before the pain was the final powerful sweep of the wings of an American Bald Eagle. As the moment of attack replayed itself in her head, she then recalled the sound of wings as the eagle flew away. But, in her panic, pain, and disorientation, she never saw the bird.

An eagle attack wasn’t something the clinic dealt with much. In fact, I believe it was the first incident of its kind ever for that clinic. It was clear that she would be needing some help with the talon marks on her face, if nothing else, so they immediately called for a medevac.

It took a while for the plane to get to the island. Meanwhile, they had radioed the boat her husband, Just, was on telling them to bring him in. But fishing boats are not speedy vessels, so it wasn’t in port yet when the medevac plane came, loaded up Inge-Lise, and headed right back out. As the plane left the little runway, it flew over the boat he was on as it was turning into the harbor. From the deck, Just stood helplessly and watched his sweetheart fly away from him.

Back to the emergency room at Anchorage - by the time I had gotten to the hospital, they had already called in a plastic surgeon who had applied the tiny stiches needed for the scratches around her eyes and on her eyelids. Miraculously, her eyes sustained no serious injury. Truly that was a miracle. Of more concern were the two puncture wounds that couldn’t be seen. Underneath her long hair, back under the base of her skull were two puncture holes from the eagle’s back talons. The doctors were somewhat concerned about possible infection, but otherwise, they concluded that the two holes would heal.  Interestingly, just like our little clinic on the island, no one in the Anchorage emergency room had ever heard of or treated an eagle attack victim.

When they released Inge-Lise from the hospital, I took her to my friend’s house where she could rest, get something to eat, get cleaned up, and wait for her husband. He wasn’t able to get off the island until the next day on the regularly scheduled flight. When he pulled up in front of the house, she had been watching for him and sprang out of the door to get to him. I have never seen a sweeter reunion.

photo by Peter Sharpe - IWS

A typical eagle has a wing span of six to eight feet. Imagine that spread of wild animal coming in so closely to your head! The claws of the bird reached over the top of Inge-Lise’s head all the way to and around her eyes, with the back talons extending to the lower part of her skull under the base. Clearly that bird was trying to take Inge-Lise away! I have heard it said that eagles often misjudge the weight of their prey. The bird clearly misjudged this one.

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Learn more about Madison County, Florida, Storytelling, founded by Wanda Violet: 

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