A 16-year-old boy who was fatally mauled by a black bear during a weekend mountain race in Alaska reportedly called his brother while he was being chased by the animal in a rare predatory attack, officials said Monday.
Patrick Cooper of Anchorage was attacked Sunday afternoon after he got lost and veered off the trail during the juniors division of the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb race south of Anchorage, race director Brad Precosky said.
State park staffers were scouring the area Monday looking for the bear, which ran off after it was shot by a ranger, according to state Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh. He said Sunday’s attack was believed to have been a rare predatory move, not a defensive action such as when a female bear will protect her cubs.
“It’s very unusual,” Marsh said of the mauling. “It’s sort of like someone being struck by lightning.”
Matt Wedeking, division operations manager with Alaska State Parks, said the bear’s predatory behavior was not normal. Asked if there were cubs around this black bear, he said, “We don’t know. There could have been. But right now I don’t have any information about the bear.”
Responders ultimately located the boy, whose body was found about a mile up the path, at about 1,500 vertical feet (457 vertical meters). Precosky said the bear was found at the site, guarding the body.
A park ranger shot the 250-pound (113-kilogram) bear in the face, but the animal ran away.
Alaska State Troopers said the boy’s remains were airlifted from the scene on Sunday.
The last fatal mauling in the state occurred near Delta Junction in Alaska’s interior in 2013, when a man was killed by a male black bear, Marsh said. The last fatal bear attack in the greater Anchorage area was in 1995, when two people were killed in the Turnagain Arm area by a brown bear protecting a moose carcass, he said.
Last week, a juvenile and two young adults sustained minor injuries when a female brown bear with two cubs attacked them. Authorities shot at that bear, but it ran off.
Areas where wilderness races such as Sunday’s take place are inherently risky when it comes to bear encounters, Precosky said. Competitors in the Bird Ridge race sign a liability waiver as part of the registration process.
But competitors often train alone in such areas and are fully aware of the dangers. Races actually can be said to cut down on the risk of a bear encounter because so many people are there, making noise and making their presence known, Precosky said. “There’s no safer time to be on a mountain than on a race,” he said.
Earlier reports say Cooper texted his mother that the bear was being chased by the bear, but Precosky said he could not confirm that.
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