A 14-year-old girl riding in a mountain bike race was attacked in the dark of night by a bear Sunday and severely injured, but she was able to make a brief 911 call that eventually resulted in her rescue.
The girl suffered head, neck, torso and leg wounds. She underwent surgery and was in critical condition Sunday afternoon at Providence Alaska Medical Center, police said.
"The local bear expert said it's probably a sow grizzly," said Cleo Hill, a spokeswoman for the Anchorage Fire Department. "One has been sighted in the area recently."
The attack occurred along a trail in a 24-hour race put on by the Arctic Bicycle Club in Bicentennial Park. Rescuers had to hike in more than two miles to reach the girl.
The park, on Anchorage's east side, borders on Chugach State Park. Wild animals — from grizzly and black bears to moose, wolves and wolverines — frequent the area. The girl was attacked as she reached a trail.
Girl called 911
About 60 riders were entered in the race — a circular route that followed groomed trails used by hikers, bikers and skiers. The race began at noon Saturday and was to conclude at noon Sunday but was canceled after the attack.
Rick Sinnott, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told the Anchorage Daily News that the bear could have been a mother that charged two runners on a nearby trail two weeks ago.
Sinnott went to the scene and posted warning signs, and said the girl was fortunate to be wearing a bike helmet because the bear had bitten her head.
The animal attacked the girl around 1:30 a.m., during the darkest part of the morning.
"It's not light enough to read, but it's light enough to see your way," Hill said of the conditions one week after the summer solstice. Riders could see rocks, trees and the trail but may have been using headlamps or a bike headlight, Hill said.
The girl called 911, and dispatchers heard someone struggling to breathe. She whispered one word — "bear" — and the line went dead, Hill said.
In ‘a battle for her life’
Following procedure for when an emergency call is cut off, dispatchers called the number back. Another rider heard the phone ringing, stopped to investigate and spotted the teen off the trail.
"That rider was able to pick up the phone and talk with the police department," Hill said.
One more rider appeared and stayed until emergency workers arrived. That took courage in the darkened forest, knowing a bear had attacked and could again, Hill said.
"It had to be extremely unnerving, if not terrifying," Hill said.
Police officers with shotguns accompanied medics to retrieve the girl.
Police Lt. Paul Honeman said the family requested that no more information be issued on the girl's condition.
"Their daughter is in a battle for her life," he said.