Wed, Dec 24, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Man wins Carnegie Medal for fighting off polar bear


A Canadian man was one of 15 people awarded a Carnegie Medal on Monday for an act seemingly pulled straight from the tall tales of the American frontier.

Eric Fortier, 34, used a pocket knife to attack a polar bear on Canada's Baffin Island, just south of the Arctic Circle, to save two friends who were being mauled.

Fortier, an orthodontist, first encountered the bear in July, 2001, when he felt what he thought was a dog leaning on his tent wall.

"My first thought was to push it away," he said.

"A few seconds later, my girlfriend saw the shadow of a bear's paw through the tent fly and then it started ripping through the ceiling," he said.

The two screamed to frighten the bear and warn their friends in a tent several yards away, but the bear ripped into that tent and began mauling 31-year-old Alain Parenteau.

"Their screams changed. I grabbed my glasses and my knife and unzipped my tent and headed out," Fortier said.

The bear dwarfed the 186cm-tall Parenteau, knocking him to the ground, he said.

Fortier threw a large rock at the bear, distracting it and allowing Parenteau to escape, but it then turned on 25-year-old Patricia Doyon, who was in the same tent.

Again Fortier threw rocks at the bear and again its target was able to escape.

"The bear gave chase and I gave chase," he said.

"At some point, Patricia tripped or the bear tripped her and was at her back. I was beside the bear's head and I stabbed it with an upper cut below the jaw in the neck a couple of times," he said.

The bear ran off. While there was some fur and blood on the 9cm blade, Fortier said he didn't think he hurt the bear badly. Both Parenteau and Doyon, however, were bleeding badly.

Fortier and his girlfriend lashed two canoes together and paddled 8km along the Soper River. Fortier traveled another 3km by foot to seek help in the nearest settlement.

Both Parenteau and Doyon were airlifted to a hospital and survived, though Parenteau had a gash within a centimeter of his jugular, Fortier said.

The bronze medal is given to people who "risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others."

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie started a hero fund in 1904 after being inspired by rescue stories from a mine disaster that killed 181 people.

The award is presented with a US$3,500 grant.

Two others presented with the award on Monday died while trying to rescue others.

Jamie Inman, 24, of Kentucky, died after passing her 10-year-old stepdaughter and 1-year-old son through a window to save them from a fire in a mobile home in February last year.

Inman was later found inside the home beside the body of her 3-year-old daughter.

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