Grizzly attacks 7 teens in wilderness school
Two suffer life-threatening injuries on extreme-survival course.
By CASEY GROVE
A grizzly bear sow with a cub attacked a group of teenagers on a month-long survival-skills course Saturday night in the Talkeetna Mountains, causing severe injuries to two of the hikers, according to Alaska State Troopers.
The bear pounced as the seven hikers were crossing a creek about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
Two of the teenagers suffered life-threatening injuries, and the other five were also injured, either by the bear or from exposure, Peters said.
Troopers and Alaska Air National Guard rescuers eventually evacuated the group, Peters said.
The hikers were all between 16 and 18 years old, and were participating in a National Outdoor Leadership School course, Peters said.
The group was on the 24th day of a 30-day backpacking trip, school spokesman Bruce Palmer said by phone from Wyoming. It was the group's first day unaccompanied by adult instructors, Palmer said.
"For the last bit of the course, we would have them travel as a student group without the instructors, utilizing the skills that they've learned over time," Palmer said.
The mauling occurred deep in the wilderness of the mountains east of the Parks Highway. According to a statement from the National Outdoor Leadership School, it was about 45 miles northeast of Talkeetna.
Troopers said it was about 34 miles east of Mile 143 of the Parks Highway. The Byers Lake campground in Denali State Park is at Mile 147.
The seven group members were in a line, calling out to make noise as they crossed the creek, Palmer said. The first hiker had apparently made it out of the water and was out of sight of the others when he began screaming, Palmer said.
The grizzly mauled the teen, attacked another group member, then returned to the first victim, Palmer said.
"It sounds like it was moving around within the group," Palmer said. The hikers carried three canisters of bear spray, but there was no initial indication that the hikers used the repellent, Palmer said.
Two 17-year-olds -- Joshua Berg of New City, N.Y. and Samuel Gottsegen of Denver -- suffered life-threatening bite and puncture wounds, Palmer said.
The rest of the group included Samuel Boas, 16, of Westport, Conn.; Noah Allaine, 16, of Albuquerque, N.M.; Simeon Melman, 17, of Huntington, N.Y.; Victor Martin, 18, of Richmond, Calif.; and Shane Garlock, 16, of Pittsford, N.Y.
The teens started first aid, made a camp and activated a locator beacon the instructors had given them. The Alaska Air National Guard's Rescue Coordination Center received the beacon transmission and notified troopers about 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Peters said.
The troopers' Helo 1 flew from Fairbanks with a pilot and trooper onboard and located the camp about 2:45 a.m., Peters said.
Berg and Gottsegen were so badly injured that troopers decided it would be safer for responders with more medical experience and better equipment to evacuate them, Peters said.
"We did not want to make them worse," Peters said. "We felt that if we moved them, they might not make the trip back."
In the meantime, Helo 1 rescued four of the teenagers with less serious injuries and flew them to Talkeetna, where an ambulance took them to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, Peters said.
Pararescuemen aboard an Air National Guard helicopter arrived about four hours later and evacuated the three remaining group members, including Berg and Gottsegen and the trooper, Peters said. That group was flown directly to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, she said.
Alaska Wildlife Troopers and state Department of Fish and Game biologists are discussing what to do about the bear, which troopers were still looking for Sunday afternoon, Peters said.
Another group of seven teenagers and three adult instructors was still in the area late Sunday and awaiting air transport, Palmer, the school spokesman, said.
The National Outdoor Leadership School is a not-for- profit organization that aims to teach leadership skills in wilderness settings around the United States, according to its website.
The expeditions instruct students on outdoor techniques that will allow them to later lead their own excursions into the backcountry, Palmer said. The school has been operating in Alaska for 40 years, he said.
Saturday's bear attack is only the second in the school's history, and the only mauling involving a grizzly, Palmer said. In 2003, a black bear wandered into a camp in Utah and bit a student, he said.