By Rachel Doro Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — About 200 square miles of Alaska backcountry terrain where a California hiker was mauled to death by a grizzly bear remained closed Sunday as investigators continued to piece together what happened.
Weather permitting, rangers at Denali National Park were planning to recreate the steps taken by 49-year-old Richard White, of San Diego, before he was attacked Friday afternoon near the Toklat River, park officials said. Before the attack, White photographed the male bear for at least eight minutes from a distance of 50 to 100 yards.
The weather was poor Sunday, with low clouds and rain contributing to low visibility. Park spokeswoman Kris Fister said that when the weather allows visibility, park pilots will fly over the area to look for other backpackers believed to still be in the general vicinity or heading in that direction. Fister said rangers might also go on foot to alert — not evacuate — the party believed to still be there.
The photographs in the recovered camera show the bear grazing and not acting aggressively. Spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said the bear did not even appear aware of the hiker until the final photos, which show the animal looking toward the camera.
A few hours after the attack Friday, hikers stumbled upon White’s backpack roughly 150 yards from his remains, McLaughlin said. The hikers also spotted blood and torn clothing, and immediately hiked back and alerted staff park.
Rangers in a helicopter spotted a large male grizzly bear sitting on the hiker’s remains, which they called a “food cache” in the underbrush.
A state trooper fatally shot the bear Saturday. The bear’s stomach contents were examined and found to contain remains and clothing that confirmed it was the animal that killed White, Fister said Sunday.
White’s remains were recovered Saturday evening and were sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage.
There’s no indication that the man’s death was the result of anything other than a bear attack, according to investigators. The attack is the first known fatal mauling in the park’s nearly century-long history.
White had been in the Denali backcountry for three nights under a five-night permit and may have recently hiked in other areas of Alaska, park officials said. It was unknown if he had previous backcountry experience in Denali, but he indicated he had multiple years of backpacking experience, Fister said.
UT San Diego reported Sunday that White was the director of exploratory pharmacology at Ferring Pharmaceuticals until last year and was switching to a new job, according to the hiker’s father, Byron White. The father, who could not be reached by The Associated Press, said his son liked hiking alone in remote places and enjoyed the wilderness. Byron White said his son had been to Denali at least once before.
Richard White is survived by a wife and young daughter, his father said.
Fister said overnight permits are not being issued for about 200 square miles in the area of the attack, where about a dozen different bears have been spotted over the summer. She said rangers personally delivered the news about the closure to others in the area who might not have heard about the attack. Day backpackers, who do not need a park permit, also are being notified as they arrive, and there are closure signs in the area, Fister said.
Before backpackers obtain a permit, they receive mandatory bear awareness training that teaches them to stay at least a quarter-mile away from bears, and to slowly back away if they find themselves any closer. Richard White had received that training, according to investigators.
Denali is located 240 miles north of Anchorage. It spans more than 6 million acres and is home to numerous wild animals, including bears, wolves, caribou and moose.