Chaffin looked up, saw Signs staring past him and swiveled toward the window. Signs says Chaffin slapped his magazine at the window to frighten off the bear. Chaffin recalls no such action.
"Get out of here!" Signs yelled as he raced to the fire door leading to an adjacent room. The bear's head dropped below the three-foot-wide window frame as Chaffin stumbled over a stool while trying to escape from behind the bar. Signs pulled the magnetic latch, stepped inside the doorway and held the door to their escapeway for Chaffin. After regaining his balance, Chaffin sidestepped the stool and was rounding the bar when he heard glass explode. He looked back and yelled, "Oh, no!" Like smashing ice to get at a seal, the polar bear leaped through the shattered window in a shower of glass, taking the frame with it.
The giant animal landed beside Chaffin and reared up in his terrified face. Chaffin, still several feet from Signs in the doorway, grabbed the bear's muzzle in a attempt to protect himself. But the bear, standing a full foot taller than Chaffin's six feet, stretched its head and neck forward and sunk its teeth into Chaffin's jaw. With almost surperhuman effort, the man pushed against the bear's black nose and tore himself free for an instant, only to have his hand and arm severely bitten. As if experimenting with how best to kill its unusual prey, the bear began swatting its victim.
A terrible realization came to Signs as he watched this bloody encounter. The gun safe was in the next room, but the key was in an office 200 feet away in the opposite direction! Signs would have to scramble around the bear to get to it, and even if he made it, there was a good chance that Chaffin would already be dead by the time he got back." Signs must have thought, "Should I close the door and sacrifice him to save myself and the other four?" The bear solved this dilemma by batting Chaffin's 240-pound body through the doorway. Signs bolted for the opposite door, found a phone, dialed the public address system and screamed, "Bear in building!"
With nothing else at hand, he grabbed a fire extinguisher and rushed back to Chaffin. The bear was on top of his coworker now, biting at the back of his head. Chaffin could feel fangs grating on his skull. He saw flashes of lightening and felt a neck vertebrae snap. He thought blood filling the right eye was blinding him, but in fact the eyeball was now resting on his cheek. He could only weakly cry, "Help me." Signs aimed the extinguisher's nozzle at the polar bear's face. A weak stream of water arced into the bear's face. The bear raised its head and looked at Signs quizzically, then merely resumed its grim work on Chaffin.
Mechanic Joe Peterson, 37, hadn't been able to make out the loud message over the public address system, but he heard a commotion and came running to investigate. Grabbing the extinguisher from Signs, he shouted, "Get the gun case key!" Not a chance, thought Signs. The bear was now 10 feet from the gun cabinet. Even if he already had the key it would be sure suicide to kneel that close to the bear while fiddling with the lock. Right now he had to find something more persuasive than a dribbling fire extinguisher. Signs ran to the hall and grabbed another extinguisher, this time a Halon model that would suck oxygen from the air and produce a hopefully distracting woosh.
He came back into the gun safe room just in time to see Peterson throw the empty extinguisher at the bear. Signs handed the second extinguisher to Peterson and was running for a third when Alex Polakoff arrived on the scene and was able to make out white fur through the thick haze of halon fog. Polakoff's hair stood on end and his strong fear of bears put him in a primal "fight or flight" mode. He raced back to his room and grabbed his fully loaded Mossberg 500. He had brought the gun from his previous work site intending to put it in the gun cabinet, but put it off when he saw the unsafe conditions at Oliktok.
When Polakoff returned. he saw the bear jumping up and down on Chaffin. He approached to within seven feet, squatted so that the slug's upward trajectory would be safely away from his unfortunate coworker and fired into the bear's chest. No visible reaction. Polakoff fired a second slug into the animal's broad chest. The bear arose from Chaffin in slow motion and walked through a door into a small library room. Polakoff stepped to his left and fired two more slugs he hoped would find the bear's chest. Of the four 1 1/4-ounce slugs from the three-inch 12-gauge magnum, one found the polar bear's heart. The animal dropped dead. Signs and Peterson got the key, retrieved their rifles and hurried out to search for any other of the three bears that had been sighted. Polakoff was left behind to make Chaffin comfortable and try to keep him talking so that he wouldn't go into shock.
"I'm cold," the badly mauled man mumbled, choking on his blood. Polakoff covered him with a blanket, slid a pillow under his head and jammed an upholstered chair into the shattered window in an attempt to block the wind current carrying minus 20- to 30-degree temperatures. He had already called the ARCO oil site for an ambulance.In the confusion, the paramedics thought the message was for them to pick up a corpse. They were leisurely driving down the road when Polakoff frantically waved them to the living quarters.
A police officer from Prudhoe Bay, 50 miles away, arrived at 3 a.m. to check out "the shooting" and wanted to confiscate the shotgun. The bear is lying over there -- take a look," Polakoff said. "If you take my gun, take me, too. I'm not staying in this place without it."
Emergency room personnel at Providence Hospital in Anchorage, where Chaffin was being flown, told Betty Chaffin that her husband had been shot in the back of the head and would be dead on arrival. That same misinformation -- probably influenced by a missing patch of scalp at the back of Don Chaffin's head -- even had Polakoff worried when he heard it. Was it possible that a slug hit bone and deflected downward, killing his friend?
It was 6:00 am before a nurse called to say that Chaffin was alive and, in fact, not shot.Eventually, Don Chaffin was left with a numb left leg, a numb right hand which drops things, 500 stitches and 150 staples in the back of his head, seven metal plates in his head, 40 inches of scars in his head and face and double vision (after several operations to his damaged right eye, it still tracks five degrees lower than the left). Although his medical bills are still paid by workman's compensation, he lost all ability to earn a living.
A week after the attack, Richard Shideler found portable lights on loan from ARCO still at the radar site, but no recommended structural changes were initiated. He heard nothing further from either Martin Marietta or the Air Force. At some point, however, one-inch plywood was nailed over the windows.On December 2, 1993, USAF and Martin Marietta personnel visited the site and immediately relaxed the firearms rules: One firearm would be available in each wing.
Signs and Peterson were given plaques and commended for bravery. In a printed reprimand from Martin Marietta, R.E. Cunningham, the manager of communications, electronics and meteorology acknowledged that had it not been for Polakoff's quick response, a far greater tragedy might have occurred. Essentially, the balance of the letter makes it clear that saving a life, and perhaps his own and others as well, was no excuse for violating project policy and procedures
I edited this into paragraphs so it would be easier to read...