BECKLEY, WVPresident Clinton is recovering today following a harrowing weekend ordeal in which he was critically injured while lost in the West Virginia woods, narrowly escaping death by crawling over 20 miles to a farmhouse for help.
"I am all right," said a battered and bruised Clinton, speaking from an upstairs bed in the farmhouse, where he is being tended to by the house's elderly matron, Mrs. Boggs. "I am just glad to be alive."
The ordeal began Friday, when Clinton, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and several other top Labor Department officials were meeting with out-of-work coalminers in an economically depressed region of central West Virginia.
"We were all walking down a wooded path toward a coalminer's home when, somehow, I got separated from the group," Clinton said. "I don't know how it happened, but I suddenly found myself alone in a strange wooded area. I called out to Secretary Herman and the others, but it was to no avail."
For the next several hours, Clinton attempted to backtrack to the main road, but his surroundings became increasingly unfamiliar. "The more I tried to find my way back, the more lost I got," the president said. "The trees, the birds, the sounds of the forest–everything I saw and heard seemed foreign to me. I was becoming extremely concerned about the situation."
As the hours continued to pass, an exhausted Clinton faced the additional problem of hunger and thirst. Uncertain which of the forest's berries were safe to eat, he subsisted on tree bark and grass, wringing out moisture from damp moss for water. The president also fashioned a crude syrup tap, which he used to draw sap from the trees.
At approximately 6 p.m., Clinton sustained his most serious injuries when he was attacked by an unidentified animal.
"I heard a sound coming from a far-off clearing. Hoping it was a hunter or camper, I headed toward it," Clinton said. "As I got closer, I heard some rustling sounds, and I shouted hello. But when I did, a creature came charging at me. I am not sure what it was: It looked like a bear, but it was gray and not quite big enough to be a bear. I ran for approximately 50 yards, but it caught me when I tripped over a log. I tried to get up and continue to run, but my ankle was pinned."
The bear-like animal then set upon the president, ferociously biting his neck and tearing at his suit with his sharp claws. Clinton said he was moments from being mauled to death when a crack of thunder in the distance startled the creature, sending it scurrying off.
"I was extremely fortunate," Clinton said. "If not for that thunder, it is entirely possible I would not be alive today."
Clinton sustained four broken ribs and a punctured right lung in the attack. His left ankle was also broken, rendering him unable to walk. Bleeding internally and badly disoriented, he proceeded to crawl for nearly 22 hours through the thick forest underbrush.
At 9 p.m. Saturday, Clinton finally reached the farmhouse, where he was taken in by its owner.
"Mrs. Boggs dressed my wounds and gave me a blanket," said Clinton, his face still badly scratched from his crawl through the forest. "She also fed me a hot bowl of oatmeal and drew me a bath. I can never repay her for her kindness."
Clinton is expected to return to Washington Thursday.