ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A 30-year-old Alaska man mauled by a bear pleads for help in a recorded 911 call, telling the dispatcher he’s up a tree and can hear the animal huffing below him.
In the recording released by Alaska State Troopers, Ben Radakovich, who survived the Sunday morning attack, tells the dispatcher to send an ambulance, saying he is “bleeding bad.” At one point the two are disconnected and Radakovich calls back.
Radakovich climbed 30 feet up the tree after he was mauled by a female brown bear with a cub on the Penguin Creek Trail south of Anchorage.
“The damn thing was batting at me,” Radakovich tells the dispatcher.
It took rescuers almost two hours to reach him. Troopers say a helicopter was unable to land nearby, so rescuers used an all-terrain vehicle to carry Radakovich on a wheeled stretcher to transport him to the chopper 1½ miles away.
He was flown to an Anchorage hospital and released Monday morning, said Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.
Several bear and moose attacks in recent weeks have raised concerns in the area; no one has died, but some of the animals have been killed.
Many calls are from people reporting bears raiding outdoor trash cans or crossing streets. Others are from people charged by moose with young offspring born in the spring calving season.
One problem: People getting too close to the animals with their cellphone cameras without the zoom power of regular cameras, said Dave Battle, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Such was the case of a young brown bear euthanized in late May after Fish and Game received numerous reports it was showing aggressive behavior like charging toward people near a popular trail south of Anchorage. In some cases, people were trying to get as close to it as they could with the camera phones.
Battle believes the rationale behind this behavior goes like this: “I want to get a picture, a close-up picture, so I can post it on Facebook and all my friends from all around the country can see what a neat place I live in.”
This year, many of those moose calls are coming from mountain bikers encountering ornery moose along new, narrow trails that run through prime calving grounds at the city’s expansive Kincaid Park.
Darcy Davis is among those to have a run in with a moose on the new trail system and has bruises on her arms and shoulders to show it. She was biking with two others last week when she encountered the moose and her calf as she rounded a corner.
“I just had time to get off my bike. I just crouched over, trying to get small. She kicked me,” Davis said Tuesday, adding the moose and her calf soon left the area.
Camera phones had nothing to do with three other high-profile bear encounters, including the weekend mauling, another bear attack in Eagle River north of Anchorage in May and a case involving a bear that was killed last week after it was feeding off a moose calf in an Anchorage neighborhood.
Sunday’s attack occurred where the trail is narrow and winding, hemmed in by dense foliage. Radakovich later told rescuers he called out to warn bears of his presence as he hiked, but said his voice might have been drowned out by the rushing creek waters nearby.
Radakovich, who lives in the Anchorage suburb of Eagle River north of town, did not respond to phone messages left at a number listed under his name. He told ABC’s Good Morning America: “I’m just grateful that I got through it and that I’m here to enjoy another day basically.”
He encountered the bear as he rounded a curve three miles into his hike. The animal was surprised as well, said trooper Tim Lewis, who was among rescuers to hike in to the site.
It happened so quickly and violently, Radakovich didn’t have time to use his bear-repellant spray, according to Lewis. He said none of Radakovich’s injuries were life-threatening, but required “a lot of stitches.”
Radakovich was still in the tree when the first responders arrived almost two hours after the attack, saying he heard the animal below him for another 20 or 30 minutes. Another trooper climbed up the thick pine tree and helped get the injured man down, Lewis said.
The victim was cold, bleeding and shivering.
“I can only imagine being mauled by a large brown bear would be very, very traumatic,” Lewis said. “He was in shock.”
Still, Radakovich was able to tell rescuers what happened. The bear sprung without warning, swatting at Radakovich and a ski pole the hiker was trying to use in self-defense. He figured the bear wasn’t going to go away, so he curled up into a fetal position.
At that the bear backed up, giving Radakovich a brief chance to scramble up the tree and dig his phone out of a pocket. His backpack fell off during the struggle.
“The good thing is that he had his cellphone with him,” Lewis said. “He didn’t have it in his backpack, which really made a big difference.”