VANCOUVER – Fearing for his life, a 38-year-old Vancouver Island man says he ran from the fangs and claws of a ravenous cougar and scaled a hefty piece of construction equipment in a desperate bid to escape.
With his pants shredded by the cougar’s jaws and a shoe lost along the way thanks to a swipe from the animal’s claws, John Frank Jr. said he climbed a locked-up excavator’s boom and called for help on his radio.
The community of Ahousat, B.C., located north of Tofino, B.C., on the island’s west coast, responded to Tuesday’s attack, with some residents arriving on scene in their trucks, scaring the cougar away.
“I was attacked. There’s no two ways about it,” Frank told The Canadian Press in an interview on Wednesday.
“The cougar wanted to eat me as a meal. I’m not going to lie to you. I’m lucky to be alive today. God was on my side that day.”
The incident, the latest cougar attack to hit the province, took place at about 5:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday in an area where Frank had been working.
Frank said he had left his VHF radio — an important means of communication in the community — on the excavator at his job site, so he returned to pick it up.
After parking his vehicle, he walked to the excavator, picked up the radio and turned back, walking a few metres.
That’s when Frank said he saw the cougar sitting on a 4.5-metre-tall embankment.
Frank said he ran back to the excavator and jumped on its track, but couldn’t get inside because the door was locked.
So he jumped on the machine’s other track, and that’s when the animal caught him mid-air, tearing his pants with its teeth.
Knocked off balance by the animal, Frank said he landed on his right hip on the right track, which left him with a bruise.
“I grabbed the railing for the excavator, pulled myself up onto the excavator, and as I was just pulling my leg over to get onto the excavator, it took a swipe and got my shoe.”
That’s when the animal hissed at him and displayed its massive teeth, said Frank.
Still trying to get away, Frank said he tried to climb the excavator’s boom, but dropped his radio on the top of its cab.
Frank said he jumped back down, picked up his radio, scrambled back up on to the boom and called for help.
Minutes later, local residents began to show up, and the cougar leapt up the same embankment it had jumped down from earlier before escaping into the rainforest.
From the start to finish, the attack only lasted three to five minutes, Frank said.
“John junior was just shaking,” said his father, John Frank Sr., chief councillor of the First Nation, who arrived on scene after the attack.
“He said, ‘this was the scariest feeling of my life. I thought for sure I was going to be eaten alive.’ That’s how scared he was.”
Frank Sr. said that after the attack, the community held an emergency meeting.
So many people were scared that the local school was closed Wednesday, he added.
“They just felt we can’t take any chances,” he said.
Insp. Ben York, a spokesman for the province’s Conservation Officer Service, said a conservation officer arrived in Ahousat at about 10 p.m. Tuesday and was joined by four officers and a volunteer houndsman Wednesday morning.
Despite their efforts, the team was unable to pick up a scent trail and called off the search for the cougar by 1 p.m, he said.
Frank Sr. said he believes the cougar is now far to the west of the community.
To show their thanks, he said the community held a special ceremony after the attack to thank God for sparing his son’s life.
“I’m grateful. I’m really grateful. I’m happy everything turned out the way it turned out after,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse.”