JUNEAU, Alaska – Students and teaching assistants have arrived back in Juneau from a remote mountaineering class that was cut short when one of their professors was mauled by a brown bear.
They said Tuesday night that they were tired and not yet ready to talk about Forest Wagner, 35, who was teaching the class on Mount Emmerich near Haines when he was attacked by the brown bear sow on Monday. The mountain is near Kicking Horse River in Alaska’s panhandle.
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A student hiked into cellphone range on the mountain and called Haines police, who reported it to the Alaska State Troopers. Haines police would not comment on the incident.
Initial reports were that Wagner had extensive injuries to his leg, according to a police report shared with the Washington Post.
Wagner arrived in Anchorage in critical condition, but he was later upgraded to serious condition on Tuesday. A hospital spokesman said he would not give interviews.
Wagner has been co-ordinating and teaching in the university’s outdoor studies program since 2006, according to his biography. He teaches rock and ice climbing, backcountry navigation, glacier travel and mountaineering.
It took several hours to get Wagner from the mountain to the hospital. Troopers reported that they were called just before noon, but Wagner didn’t arrive at the Providence Alaska Medical Center until after 4 p.m. Wagner was transferred between two helicopters and first reported to be headed to Juneau before he was taken to Anchorage. Haines is about 90 miles north of Juneau and more than 500 miles from Anchorage.
Troopers’ spokeswoman Megan Peters said the delay is unavoidable when dealing with accidents in rural Alaska. In this case, a student had to hike down the mountain, then two troopers in Haines contracted with a helicopter company from Juneau that was used to take Wagner down into Haines to a waiting medical helicopter.
“People are used to being in urban places where it takes a matter of minutes to get that help,” Peters said.
Troopers co-ordinated a helicopter rescue into Haines on Monday. None of the students were injured. They were, however, evacuated from the mountain. The bear, which had cubs, was spotted about 200 yards from the helicopter, and a trooper had to hike back in to provide security, according to the report shared with the Post. Bear sows can become aggressive if they think their cubs are in danger, experts say.
The group of 11 students spent the night in Haines with University of Alaska Southeast professor Kevin Krein, Bausler said. Krein did not return messages seeking comment on the situation.
Through a university spokeswoman, Krein told the Post that he was proud of the students and that they had applied their medical and wilderness training during the situation.
Details about the specifics of the attack had not yet emerged, Peters said.
“From what it sounds like, they were spread out,” Peters said. “I don’t know if anybody actually witnessed the mauling except for the person that was mauled.”
Juneau is about 90 miles south of Haines and can only be reached from the capital city by boat or plane. The ferry takes about four hours to travel between the two locations.
University Chancellor Rick Caulfield was waiting at the Juneau ferry terminal when the students arrived late Tuesday evening.
He said administrators would make sure the students got counselling if they needed it. Students also would be able to take their end-of-semester finals which are scheduled to begin next week, Caulfield said.
Meanwhile, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist was seeking information on the attack and planned to interview the students upon their return to Juneau, spokesman Ken Marsh said.
Wagner is the second man attacked by a bear in Alaska within days. A 77-year-old bear hunter is recovering at an Anchorage hospital from injuries he suffered when a grizzly mauled him in interior Alaska on Friday.