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Contact: Kris Fister, (907) 683-9583
Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 733-9103
DENALI PARK, Alaska: Richard White, age 49 of San Diego, was the solo backpacker killed by a grizzly bear in Denali National Park on Friday, August 24. He had been in the Denali backcountry for three nights when he was killed. 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.
This afternoon Alaska State Troopers assisting Denali National Park and Preserve rangers and park wildlife biologists shot and killed a bear that was defending the kill site along the Toklat River as the recovery team attempted to reach 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.
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.
Friday afternoon, three dayhikers discovered an abandoned backpack and evidence of a violent struggle along the Toklat River approximately three miles south of the Toklat River Rest Area. They immediately hiked back to the Rest Area and notified the NPS staff of the findings.
Park rangers launched a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft from park headquarters that evening. 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. 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.
Evidence indicates that the attack occurred proximate to the river's open braided gravel bar, and the bear subsequently dragged the remains to a more secluded, brushy cache site. After conducting an initial surveillance of the site, the rangers determined that the recovery of the remains would need to wait until daylight on Saturday due to the presence of bears and the waning light.
An emergency closure has been put in place prohibiting all backcountry hiking and camping in that backcountry unit 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. All backpackers in the park receive mandatory 'Bear Aware' training prior to receiving a backcountry permit, including a 30-minute safety video, a safety briefing from the backcountry ranger staff, and all backpackers are required to carry a Bear Resistant Food Container (BRFC). (https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/bearsafety.htm).
More details on this fatal incident will be released as the investigation continues.