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Skier rescued in Alaska backcountry after bear attack

A skier who was mauled by a brown bear was hoisted to safety out of the Alaska backcountry over the weekend, officials said.

The man was stable at a hospital after Saturday’s mauling on a mountain northwest of Haines, in the southeastern part of the state near the top of the Alaskan panhandle, the Coast Guard and state troopers said.

The skier, who suffered injuries to his head and his hands, was airlifted by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

He was attacked while he and two other skiers were hiking up a mountain to ski down it and unknowingly came across a den with a brown bear and its cubs, Alaska State Troopers said in a report.

The bear left the den, attacked one of the skiers, who rolled down the hill, and then left, the troopers said.

The skiers were at around 1,600 feet elevation in what was described as steep terrain. The two other skiers, who were not hurt, went down the mountain on their own, officials said.

The Coast Guard said the skiers were well-prepared and able to seek help in 15-degree weather with sunset approaching.

“Their satellite communication device provided the precise GPS coordinates and elevation of their location. Equally important, they had brightly colored fabric to signal the helicopter as we approached,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Will Sirokman, who was a co-pilot in the rescue, said in a statement. “This was absolutely crucial to us finding them in a timely manner.”

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The state Fish and Game Department and Alaska Wildlife Troopers are investigating.

Bears are sometimes euthanized after attacks, but generally only when they are involved in predatory attacks in which they view people as food, said Rick Green, special assistant to the fish and game commissioner. He said no action was likely to be taken against the bear in Saturday’s attack.

The Fish and Game Department has said bear attacks are rare.

In a 2019 study on bear attacks in the state, the Alaska Section of Epidemiology identified 10 deaths from eight bear attacks from 2000 to 2017.

Sixty-eight people were hospitalized for injuries from 66 bear attacks in that span, according to the report. The authors noted that there were important limits in its review, such as injuries treated in the field and varying levels of detail in death reports.

Bears killed at least two people in Alaska last year. A man was killed near Hope on July 26, the Fish and Game Department said, and an Ohio man on a moose-hunting trip was killed by a bear in September in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

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