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San Diego man was photographing bear before fatal attack

August 26, 2012 |  1:25 pm

San Diego man was photographing bear before fatal attack
A San Diego man killed Friday by a grizzly bear in Alaska’s Denali National Park had been taking pictures of the animal for at least seven to eight minutes before the attack, park officials said Sunday.

Richard White, 49, was between 50 and 100 yards away from the bear that ultimately mauled him to death, according to images found on his camera, park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said. He is the first person to die in a bear attack in the history of the park, which covers 4.7 million acres.

Hikers are typically advised to stay at least 300 yards away from a bear, McLaughlin said.

The bear, which weighed approximately 600 pounds, was shot and killed by a state trooper as he was defending the spot where White's remains were found.

The incident began Friday afternoon when three day hikers found a camera, a backpack and evidence of a violent struggle along the Toklat River, including torn clothing and blood. They reported what they found to park rangers, who sent a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft to search for White, officials said.

Rangers in the helicopter determined that the bear had dragged White’s remains from a flat expanse along the river to a more secluded brushy area 150 yards away, where it stored its food.

Investigators determined the bear had killed White after reviewing the bear's stomach contents, the images on the camera and other evidence, officials said. The pictures showed the bear foraging in the brush along the Toklat River, McLaughlin said.

"For a good chunk of that time, the bear was unaware that anyone was there," McLaughlin said. "There were no dramatic signs of aggression."

Bear attacks have resulted in minor injuries in recent years, McLaughlin said. But several decades have passed since someone in the park was the victim of a severe mauling, she said.

White had been backpacking in a trailless backcountry section of the park for three nights when he was killed. Park officials imposed an emergency closure prohibiting all hiking and camping in that portion of the park and others nearby until further notice.

Although no other park visitors were seen near the site of the bear attack, park employees contacted three backpackers in adjacent areas Saturday and flew them via helicopter to the Toklat River Rest Area.

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-- David Zahniser

twitter/davidzahniser

Photo: An adult bear in Denali National Park in Alaska. Credit: Joel Sartore / National Geographic

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