Kenneth Steck was walking back to his camping site in Alaska after gathering water for his friends and wife when he heard branches breaking. The sound, his parents said, was like a vehicle driving up behind him.
Steck, 30, turned and saw a big brown bear charging toward him. Before he could think, the bear was on top of him.
"While the bear was close, he just put his foot up and he felt like it was going in slow motion," Steck's mother, Cindy, told NBC 5 of the May 13 attack. "And all these thoughts were going through his mind. He said he thought he was going to die, and he said, 'Lord, if it's my time to go, I'm ready.'"
Steck, a native of Rolling Meadows who moved to Alaska four years ago, told his mom his head "felt really wet" at one point and he thought he was in the bear's mouth.
But almost as quickly as the attack began, it ended, and the bear left the camp.
Steck escaped with injuries to his head, shoulder and calf. Luckily Steck's wife was among other nurses on the camping trip who were able to render aid before he was air-lifted to the hospital.
His parents spoke to Steck over the phone once he arrived at a hospital in Anchorage.
His first words to them: "Da Bears."
"We just laughed and cried at the same time because he was being so funny with us, and we were so glad to hear his voice and know he was alive," Cindy Steck said.
Steck remained at the hospital for a few days before returning for a minor surgery. He left the hospital Saturday night.
Steck moved to Alaska after enrolling in an outdoor studies program at Alaska Pacific University. He was visiting friends and family with his wife in the town of Yakutat two weeks ago when they decided to travel to Disenchantment Bay for a trip, Steck told the Alaska Dispatch News.
The next morning, Steck left the camp to fill up some water jugs at a nearby snowmelt waterfall and after gathering the water, he heard something in the woods behind him. That’s when he turned around and saw “a brown bear in a full charge” heading for him, he told the publication.
"It's surreal," Steck's father, Howie, told NBC 5. "You don't imagine something like that happening to one of your kids."
"It was terrible," he said. "It was the worst 24 hours of my life."
An Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist who interviewed Steck when he arrived for treatment at Anchorage Hospital determined the bear should not be killed for the attack, saying it didn’t appear to be predatory, but rather a case of a human surprising the bear at close quarters.
“The attack lasted only seconds – just long enough for the surprised bear to neutralize a perceived threat. The bear then ran away,” spokesman Ken Marsh said in an emailed statement. “With this information, our biologist determined that subsequent attacks from the animal are unlikely and that little would be gained in seeking and destroying the bear. It is also worth noting that the attack site is located in a remote area that sees few visitors.”
Howie Steck said he's grateful the bear was merciful to his son.
"It could've been really really bad," he said. "We'd be doing a different interview today."