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July 26, 2011

Teens mauled by grizzly in Alaska

The Bismarck Tribune

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A grizzly bear that was with her cub attacked several teens participating in a survival skills course in remote wilderness in Alaska, badly mauling two in the group, state troopers said Sunday.

The teens were among seven students participating in a 30-day backcountry course by the National Outdoor Leadership School when the attack occurred Saturday night in the Talkeetna Mountains north of Anchorage. They were rescued early Sunday.

The teens told troopers the attack occurred as they were lined up in front of each other for a river crossing. Those in the back of the line heard scream about the presence of a bear, with the two at the front of the line taking the brunt of the attack, trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said.

Another group of seven students and three instructors was waiting about six miles away for a helicopter hired by the Lander, Wyo.-based NOLS, said Bruce Palmer, a spokesman for the organization, which leads many such excursions in Alaska and elsewhere.

Palmer said the worst injured with bear bite wounds are 17-year-old Joshua Berg of New City, N.Y., and 17-year-old Samuel Gottsegen of Denver. They were being treated at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Hospital spokeswoman Crystal Bailey said both are listed in serious condition.

Two others also were injured, Palmer said.

Victor Martin, 18, of Richmond, Calif., was taken to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Palmer and released after being treated for a bite wound above his ankle, according to Palmer. Noah Allaine, 16, of Albuquerque, N.M., remained at the Palmer hospital with injuries Palmer said he did not know. Allaine was listed in good condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman, Margo Wesley.

The teens were in the 24th day of their course when the attack occurred. There was no instructor with them because that far into the course, they've learned enough survival skills, Palmer said.

"Our basic goal is that when a student graduates from the NOLS course, they have the experience and background to be able to take other people out into the backcountry," he said. "We're training people to be outdoor leaders basically."

Calling out to warn bears is among the skills learned in the course.

The teens told troopers the 8:30 p.m. attack occurred as they were lined up in front of each other for a river crossing. The bear attacked Berg first, turned to another student, then turned back to Berg, Palmer said.

After the attack, the teens applied first aid to each other, set up camp and activated a personal locator beacon they carried to be used only for an emergency, Peters said.

The Rescue Coordination Center operated by the Alaska Air National Guard called troopers around 9:30 p.m. to report the activated locator signal. A trooper and pilot in a helicopter located the students in a tent shortly before 3 a.m., but decided the two most seriously injured couldn't safely be flown in the helicopter, but would need a medical transport aircraft with a medically trained crew.

They called the rescue center for help and the helicopter pilot flew four of the teens to the Talkeetna airport. From there, they driven by ambulance to the Palmer hospital, where they were checked.

The trooper and another student stayed with the badly injured teens for four hours until more rescuers arrived in a specially equipped helicopter, which flew them to the Anchorage hospital, Peters said. The uninjured student who remained is 16-year-old Samuel Boas of Westport, Conn. Palmer said Boas has training as an emergency medical technician.

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