MEDORA, N.D. -- A visitor was injured by a bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park last week, the park said in a release on Friday.
Michael Turk, 65, from Juneau, Alaska, was hiking on the Buckhorn Trail between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. last Friday, June 30, to take photos of the sunset, the park said.. He encountered a bison on the way to his photo location. He stopped to take additional photos of another bison he encountered while returning to Juniper Campground. Turk said sometime while he was photographing the bison, it turned toward him and charged. He lost consciousness and sustained a large laceration on his left inner thigh in addition to other cuts and bruises.
Turk was able to hike to the trailhead, where he saw another bison and became scared. He climbed a short distance up a nearby butte and began calling for help.
Three Minot Air Force base airmen were the first on the scene with a buffalo still threatening Turk.
Senior Airmen Justin Valentine, Jake Nixon and Christopher Velazquez were with a group from the base also camping in the Juniper Campground when, at about 10:30 p.m., they heard someone calling for help.
They were winding down after a long day of exploring in the North Unit of the park when, as Nixon described, "Over our campfire we hear a yell off in the distance and we sort of paused and looked at each other, 'Did we just hear someone yell help?' A moment later we hear it again off in the distance."
"It was faint," added Valentine.
They grabbed flashlights, Velazquez got his concealed carry firearm and the three headed off into the brush toward the area where the voice was coming from.
Getting to a road, they followed it for about a quarter mile before they saw a light from the injured man who had climbed up a butte to get away from the bison, also often called buffalo.
"We hear him yelling something about a buffalo so we approached cautiously. We can see the mass of a buffalo below him," Nixon said.
"Before we actually got there he was yelling things like "bleeding, buffalo, call 911," added Velazquez. He sent a message back for someone to call 911.
Valentine said Nixon and Velazquez are faster than he is and got to the site a few seconds before him. He said he could hear the man saying things like "stuck in a hole, I'm bleeding, help." "It wasn't until I got close I realized there was a buffalo in the equation that was between us and this man," Valentine said.
With the bison standing there, they could not approach the injured man. By this time 10 or so campers from other campsites filed in behind the three Minot AFB men. One camper drove a car to the area.
"At this point the buffalo started to approach the man again," Nixon said.
"The guy kept yelling, 'help, help, help' " said Velazquez. Velazquez yelled to the man, "How bad is the cut, how much are you bleeding" and the man responded, "A lot. I need help, I need an ambulance, it's critical."
Velazquez said they tried to get the bison out of the way so they could get to the man. The bison was standing at the bottom of the butte.
"We tried to be loud, we tried to scare in numbers, the buffalo wasn't having it," Nixon said.
Velazquez said they did not know the extent of the man's injuries but his voice sounded like it was bad and life threatening.
"At this point we needed to get to him immediately so after all other resources were expended I decided to shoot into the ground," Velazquez said, who was wrestling with whether or not to shoot because he knew discharging a firearm was against National Park Service regulations but they also needed to get to the injured man. He hoped to scare the bison so it would go away. Velazquez fired the shot but the bison kept on eating grass and didn't move. After 30 seconds or so the bison started looking at them and started coming toward them, he said.
To get away from the bison the airmen and several other campers piled into the mid-size Toyota Corolla.
"I remember basically being pressed up against the ceiling of this vehicle against seven other people," Nixon said.
"The door wasn't even closing, at least on my side," Valentine said.
The bison, though, lost interest and went around the butte to the back side, giving the rescuers an opportunity to help the hiker.
The three airmen and a camper with a machete ran to the hiker. "Machete man tore off his shirt, tore it in half," Nixon said. He said the camper with the machete tied his shirt tightly around the man's wound to stop the bleeding. He said the injured man had taken off his socks and stuffed them into the wound to stop the bleeding. His socks were soaked with blood. His leg was covered in blood and his pants were absolutely soaked at this point.
They had sent some of the campers back to contact the camp host, the person in charge of the campgrounds, to get in touch with park staff.
Their next step was to get the man to a safe location while keeping an eye out for bison.
Valentine got the man down from the butte, walking backwards so in case the injured man slipped he could brace him. Because he was holding the man, he didn't want to put both of them into a situation in which the man as well as himself would be injured on their way down.
Another camper then helped the man the rest of the way to the waiting Toyota car. The man was safely in the car at about 11 p.m. and on his way to meet an ambulance with emergency medical technicians waiting at the end of the road.
The McKenzie County Sheriff's Office and park rangers met the group near the park entrance. Turk was then transported by the McKenzie County Ambulance.
Eileen Andes, Medora, chief of Interpretation at the park, confirmed Turk suffered a laceration of his left inner thigh. She said the bison apparently threw Turk into a bush and he lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness he hiked to the trailhead.
Andes said Turk was treated, including getting stitches and then released on Saturday, July 1, from the McKenzie County Hospital in Watford City. She said he was able to walk. She said Turk did not have a car but had a bicycle at the park.
The three airmen credit much of their emergency response actions to their Air Force training. All are members of the 705th Munitions Squadron at the Minot base. Valentine is from Littleton, Pa., Velazquez from Orlando, Fla., and Nixon from Golden, Colo.
Park staff reminded the public that bison are large, powerful and fast-moving. Though they may look docile, they are wild animals and may be startled by humans, especially after dark. Park regulations require visitors to stay at least 25 yards away from large animals such as bison, elk, deer and horses.
Visitors are also reminded that while it is legal to carry a firearm under certain conditions, it is illegal to discharge one in a national park.
Ogden writes for the Minot Daily News