Grizzly attacks teen bicycle racer in Alaska park
By Wesley Loy | McClatchy Newspapers
4:21 PM CDT, June 29, 2008
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A teenage girl riding in an all-night bicycle race suffered severe injuries early Sunday morning when a bear attacked her on a trail in Far North Bicentennial Park, authorities said.
Police officers with shotguns escorted medics into dark woods to retrieve the girl, who was to undergo surgery at Providence Alaska Medical Center. The hospital reported she was still in surgery at 6:30 a.m. Sunday.
"She was cut up and bit pretty good," said Anchorage Police Officer Jean Mills.
Police declined to identify the victim.
Rick Sinnott, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, went to the scene and said it could have been the same momma grizzly that charged two runners about two weeks ago on a nearby trail.
Police were called at 1:35 a.m. after another bicyclist found the mauled girl down and dazed on the ground.
She was among about 60 participants in a 24-hour race sponsored by the Arctic Bicycle Club. The team event began at noon Saturday and was to end at noon Sunday. Organizers canceled it after the attack and were trying to account for all the other riders.
Most likely the grizzly, which has a pair of cubs, was fishing for salmon in the creek and might not have heard the cyclist coming due to stream noise and strong winds roaring through the forest, he said.
It's definitely not unheard of, Sinnott said, for a bear to charge someone moving by on a bicycle. In fact, the motion combined with surprise could trigger what was an "unintentionally provoked" attack, he said.
After the mauling, the girl used her cell phone to call 911 but was unable to communicate, Sinnott said.
Another rider who came along found her sitting on the ground and said she could utter only one word: "Bear."
He then used her phone to make another call for help.
Sinnott said he didn't arrive in time to see the victim before she was taken to the hospital, but he learned from emergency responders that the girl suffered multiple injuries.
The bear bit her on the head, torso and thigh, Sinnott said. She also had a "sucking chest wound" caused by a puncture to the lung cavity.
It was close to 3 a.m. when Sinnott and two police officers emerged from the spooky near-solstice night to the South Bivouac Trailhead parking lot on Campbell Airstrip Road. Sinnott carried a 12-gauge shotgun.
The bear was nowhere to be seen, but the woods are dangerous, he said. He set about tacking up signs to warn people.
Mills, the police officer, opened a bag containing the injured girl's bicycle helmet, which the bear had chewed up.
It was lucky she had the helmet on, as the bear attempted to chomp her head, Sinnott said.
He questioned the wisdom of bicyclists riding all night through bear territory.
"A midnight race along a salmon stream is probably a pretty bad idea when the salmon are there," Sinnott said.
(c) 2008, Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska).