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Alaska bear attack: Woman survives by playing dead

Jessica Gamboa survived a brown bear attack on a military base in Anchorage, Alaska, by playing dead like she had always been told to do. According to a Friday report by, Gamboa suffered lacerations to her neck, arms and legs, a torn ear and neck fractures, but she survived the attack. She was running on the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson where her husband is stationed with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. Gamboa is originally from Sacramento, Calif.

Playing dead is not always the correct option during a bear attack.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Gamboa had become separated from her husband while running, but was rescued by a combat medic on the base, Sgt. Collin Gillikin from Rockford, Mich. She had begun to attempt to walk back to their truck to call for help when Gillikin drove by. She was losing quite a lot of blood at the time.

Is playing dead the correct response to take when attacked by a bear? The answer depends on what kind of bear and what kind of behavior the bear exhibits. has a comprehensive list of how to determine what to do in a bear encounter. It is a bit of an over-simplification, but the general rule is that you can possibly stop a brown bear or grizzly bear attack by playing dead, but a black bear should be intimidated by making yourself big and loud. This resource suggests that the only time that playing dead with a black bear is done is if you are sure they are protecting their cubs.

The most effective protection during a bear attack is a strong pepper spray which is used at around 40 feet. This particular bear that attacked Jessica Gamboa had two cubs with her. Gamboa spotted one of the cubs before she saw the mother, but she knew she was surely nearby. Most information about bear attacks suggests that playing dead, if it is the correct action to take, should be continued after the attack if possible, because grizzly bears will often return if they think you are not dead. Fortunately for this military wife, this particular bear did not return to continue the attack, and she is recovering in the hospital.

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