A 49-year-old San Diego man has been identified as the victim of a fatal grizzly bear mauling in Denali National Park and Preserve. Park officials also say the bear believed responsible was shot and killed by an Alaska state trooper.
Richard White had been in the park's backcountry for three nights when he was attacked Friday along the Toklat River, according to park officials. "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," park spokeswoman Kris Fister said in a release late Saturday.
The mauling was discovered Friday afternoon after three day hikers came across a backpack along the river roughly 3 miles south of the Toklat River Rest Area. They immediately hiked back to the rest area and notified park officials.
Rangers flew over the area Friday evening, and spotted bears around the Mr. White's body around 8:30 p.m. 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," Ms. Fister said in her release. "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."
According to the park spokeswoman, the rangers believe a grizzly attacked the backpacker near the river's open braided gravel bar and "subsequently dragged the remains to a more secluded, brushy cache site."
Due to darkness and grizzlies in the area the man's body was not recovered Friday, but rangers, assisted by state troopers, returned to the area Saturday. A trooper shot and killed a grizzly that was defending the kill site as rangers attempted to reach Mr. White's remains.
"The bear killed was a large male bear. After determining the area was safe, a team of five park rangers moved in to complete the field investigation. White’s remains were removed Saturday evening and will be sent to the medical examiner in Anchorage," Ms. Fister said later in the day.
"The body of the dead bear was necropsied Saturday evening. The results of the necropsy, combined with the photographs taken by the victim prior to the attack, confirm that this was the animal that killed White," she added.
During a press conference later Saturday, park Superintendent Paul Anderson said rangers had recovered Mr. White's digital camera from the scene and that it showed he had approached too close to a grizzly he came upon.
"It would appear the hiker was coming down on a Toklat River (gravel) bar and came upon a bear at the edge of the river,” the superintendent told reporters. “Rather than try to move around the bear and keep a quarter-mile distance, he approached within 50 yards."
“It was grazing, not aggressive in any manner,” he added. “The normal behavior of people is to remain a quarter-mile away from bears and immediately back away if it gets closer.”
The superintendent added that Mr. White was cautioned during a half-hour backcountry briefing to keep his distance from bears before he headed into the backcountry.
In the wake of the incident, park officials placed an emergency closure prohibiting all backcountry hiking and camping in that backcountry unit, Unit 10, and those adjacent to it until further notice. Although no park visitors were sighted or known to be in the immediate vicinity of the incident, on Saturday morning park staff contacted three parties in adjacent areas and flew them via helicopter to the Toklat River Rest Area.
This incident is the first known bear mauling fatality recorded in Denali National Park and Preserve.