Mitch Paddock was at a friend’s house in the town that’s known as the polar bear capital of the world when he heard the screams of a woman who had just left the gathering.
He ran outside in his sock feet and saw his retired neighbour, who he and others in the area have identified as Bill Ayotte, on the ground in front of his house being mauled by one of the huge white creatures.
“I didn’t know it was my neighbour at the time. It was just a guy on the ground,” Paddock said Saturday from Churchill, Man.
“He was on his back, the bear was right on top of him with both paws,” he said of the incident early Friday.
It turned out Ayotte had run out of his house to help the woman, Paddock said, adding the man grabbed a shovel and hit the animal, distracting it and giving the woman time to flee to his home and shut the door.
But then Ayotte was the one in serious trouble.
“It was dragging him around,” Paddock said. “It was pouncing on him. That’s what polar bears do. They take both their paws and they kind of smash. He was kind of jumping on Bill’s chest.”
“I ran down the street in my socks to get my gun.”
Paddock said he raced into his house and up the stairs to grab a shotgun that fires cracker shells, which are designed to scare wildlife by shooting fire crackers. He said many people in Churchill have them.
He ran back to the scene and began firing, but the bear remained on top of his neighbour, undeterred.
Paddock said other neighbours came out, trying frantically to scare the bear off.
“Another neighbour, one of the guys who lives beside Bill, was throwing shoes and yelling at the bear,” he said.
“One of my neighbours was standing on the deck in his underwear, shooting at him, too.
“Eventually I hit him in the side with one of these cracker shells, and when it went off, it was at his feet and he ran away.”
But the bear only ran a few metres before turning back to his prey and resuming the attack. At that point, Paddock said the neighbour who was also shooting at the bear jumped into his pickup truck and drove up to the animal while honking the horn.
That eventually drove the bear away, he said, and everyone ran outside to help Ayotte.
Doug Webber, who lives right next door, said Ayotte was in rough shape. One neighbour brought out a blanket while others got him to his feet and rode with him in the bed of the pickup to the community’s hospital.
“He was on his feet with three people helping him,” Webber said. “There was a lot of blood around his head.”
He said he also saw the woman, who’d taken refuge in Ayotte’s house, covered in blood.
Police said 69-year-old Ayotte suffered multiple lacerations and was taken to hospital in stable condition. The woman, who police said was 30, was in the same condition. Her name has not been disclosed.
Manitoba Conservation officials said they fatally shot two bears.
Spokesman Glen Cassie said it’s not normal practice to automatically shoot bears within the town, but that’s what this situation required.
A cub, however, was tranquilized and taken to a holding facility.
In September, a polar bear in Churchill chased resident Garett Kolsun, trapped him on the porch of a bakery and swiped at him with a paw.
Kolsun pulled out his cellphone and the light startled the bear, which backed into a flower pot. That distracted the animal enough to give Kolsun a chance to run away.
Webber said two attacks in such a short time have left people a “little on the frightened side.”
“There’s only been a handful in the last 50 years I’ve been here,” Webber said.
“We tend to get fairly blase about polar bears until something like this happens.”