ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The man from San Diego who was killed by a grizzly bear while hiking in Alaska’s Denali National Park took photos of the bear moments before it attacked and killed him.
Despite having undergone mandatory bear awareness training before being allowed to hike in the park, and given specific instructions on what to do in case of a bear encounter, photos from 49-year-old Richard White’s camera show he chose to ignore those instructions before he was attack and killed by the bear he was photographing.
Rangers inform hikers to stay at least a quarter mile from a bear and to slowly back away if you find yourself any closer to one, but photos taken by White show the man was taking pictures within 40 to 50 yards of the grizzly moments before the attack.
The last photos taken by White, which have not been made public, show the grizzly with his head down while grazing along the Toklat River gravel bar. The last series of photos span about 15 seconds, and show the bear lifting its head, looking toward the camera, then moving towards White. Chief park ranger Pete Webster says the attack probably happened immediately after the last photo.
“A bear could cover that distance before a person could react,” Webster said. He’s the expert, so I hate challenging his claim, but I bet $1000 I could’ve reacted by filling my pants with doo-doo butter before a bear covered half that distance.
Hikers discovered White’s backpack, torn clothing and blood on Friday afternoon along the river about three miles from a rest area. They immediately turned around and alerted park staff. Later that day, White’s remains would be spotted 100 to 150 yards from the site of the attack by rangers in a helicopter. His remains were easy to find because a large grizzly bear was sitting on top of them. On Saturday, a state trooper shot and killed the bear.
That evening, investigators confirmed the grizzly that had been killed was the one that had killed White. They did this by examining the bear’s stomach contents and comparing the bear to the one in White’s photos. White’s death marks the first recorded fatal bear mauling since the park was created in 1917, so they don’t plan on changing their procedures in light of White’s death.
“This was an avoidable incident,” Webster said. “The hiker had opportunity to back away and at least attempt to move around this bear, and it doesn’t appear that he did so.”
I think bears are awesome, but I know I will never be eaten by one because I never go into their homes. I am content with watching bears in their natural habitats while sitting in front of my monitor. Other ways I know I won’t die? A scuba-diving accident or because my parachute failed to open after jumping out of a plane.
I don’t get a chance to use the following video much and, admittedly, it really has nothing to do with this story. But whenever we have stories regarding bear attacks, I always think of one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite bad movies — the infamous sleeping bag death in PROPHECY.