Park Service confirms victim’s identity, find photos hiker took of the bear just before the attack
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Denali National Park has enacted an emergency closure in the area where a backcountry hiker was killed by a grizzly bear last week. The closure is indefinite, park officials said as they resumed their investigation into the first fatal mauling in the park’s history.
Most of the backcountry units that were closed as a result of the incident are now open. Unit 10, where the attack took place, will remain closed for the next few days for continued monitoring and investigation. The unit encompasses an area of almost 50 square miles.
Richard White, age 49 of San Diego, had been in the Denali backcountry for three nights when he was killed by the bear Aug. 24. He may have recently hiked in other areas of Alaska prior to coming to the park, but it is not known at this time if he had previous backcountry experience in Denali.
This week, rangers returned to the site of the fatal attack after bad weather hampered the investigation for a couple of days. Investigators were able to find the spot where White took pictures of the bear just before the attacks. The initial photos of the bear were shot at a distance of 75 yards, and show the bear with it head down, browsing on berries. Other pictures show the bear head up, moving closer to White.
Following the attack, park rangers and state troopers killed the bear that was defending the site where White was killed to help the recovery team reach his remains. A necropsy, combined with White’s photographs, confirmed that it was the same bear that killed White.
The fatal mauling was reported by three day hikers who found an abandoned backpack and signs of a violent struggle along the Toklat River, about three miles south of the Toklat River Rest Area.
Park rangers launched a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft from park headquarters that evening. At least one grizzly bear was still at the site, although there may have been multiple bears. The bear(s) moved away when the helicopter approached and landed.
Two rangers on board the helicopter got out and confirmed the location of the victim’s remains. After a short time a bear returned to the cache site while the rangers were investigating the scene, forcing the rangers to retreat to the gravel bar. The bear then began to circle around them. Rangers fired two rifle shots at the bear, but the bear was not hit. The rangers were able to leave by helicopter as darkness was setting in.
Evidence indicates that the attack occurred near the river’s open braided gravel bar, and the bear subsequently dragged the remains to a more secluded, brushy cache site. After conducting an initial surveillance of the site, the rangers determined that the recovery of the remains would need to wait until daylight on Saturday due to the presence of bears and the waning light.
This incident is the first known bear mauling fatality recorded in Denali National Park and Preserve. All backpackers in the park receive mandatory ‘Bear Aware’ training prior to receiving a backcountry permit, including a 30-minute safety video, a safety briefing from the backcountry ranger staff, and all backpackers are required to carry a Bear Resistant Food Container (BRFC). (http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/bearsafety.htm).
Filed under: hiking, national parks, public lands, recreation, wildlife Tagged: | Denali grizzly attack, Denali National Park, Denali National Park and Preserve, Grizzly bear, grizzly bear fatal attacks, Richard White