ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska has been left shocked by two fatal maulings by wild black bears in the space of just two days.
On Monday, officials with an underground gold mine reported a contract employee hired to take geological samples was killed and another injured in a black bear attack. That attack took place about 300 miles northeast of Anchorage.
The names of the victims have not been released. Alaska State Troopers and federal mine officials were investigating the mauling at Pogo Mine.
Officials told CBS affiliate KTVA that the contractors were working several miles from the main mine camp when they were attacked.
“Right now we have more questions than answers. Everyone on site is concerned for those involved,” Pogo Mine general manager Chris Kennedy said, according to KTVA. “Our condolences have been shared with our contractor and our hearts go out to the individuals, their colleagues, and their families.”
The mining company told KTVA that the bear involved in the attack was killed at the direction of Alaska Wildlife Troopers.
The mauling near the mine came a day after Patrick Cooper, a teenage wilderness racer, was killed in what scientists describe as a.
Cooper had already turned around after reaching the halfway point in a popular mountain race in Alaska when he somehow veered off the trail and became lost. That’s when the 16-year-old Anchorage boy encountered the black bear that would take his life.
Cooper began running, and at one point he reportedly placed a frantic call to his brother, saying he was being chased by a bear Sunday in the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb race south of Anchorage. The brother notified race director Brad Precosky, who alerted race crews to begin searching for Cooper, known as Jack.
It took a couple hours for responders to locate the teen, whose body was found about a mile up the path, at about 1,500 vertical feet. The bear was found at the site, guarding the body, Precosky said.
Alaska State Troopers said the boy’s remains were airlifted from the scene on Sunday.
A Chugach State Park ranger shot the 250-pound bear in the face, but the animal ran away. State park staffers were scouring the area Monday looking for the bear, state Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh said.
Fish and Game biologist Dave Battle told KTVA they were hoping to find the bear’s body on Monday, but there were no confirmed sightings before nightfall.
“We know the bear was hit because we found blood,” he said. “But, we don’t know how hard it was hit — if it was a graze or anything like that.” Battle added that, if the bear was not very seriously wounded, it may well have left the area.
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, he said.
“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 predatory behavior of the bear in the attack on the teen 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.”
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 he was being chased by the bear, but Precosky said he could not confirm that.