The attack occurred in the 13.2-million-acre Wrangell St. Elias National Park, the largest in the U.S. park system, in southeastern Alaska. (Photo: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve)
MANSFIELD – A 22-year-old Mansfield man was killed by a grizzly bear in an Alaska state park Sunday while on a moose hunting trip, the National Park Service reported Thursday.
Mansfield police attempted to notify family on Tuesday that Austin Pfeiffer, of Mansfield, had died, according to a report at the Mansfield Police Department. An Alaska state trooper called MPD to have an officer contact Austin’s wife, Ryleigh Pfeiffer, regarding a wildlife encounter while hunting in Alaska, according to information the News Journal obtained.
Pfeiffer was a job site foreman with Dolce’s Tree Service and a skilled tree climber, lift operator and all-around handyman, according to his employer’s website.
According to his Facebook page, Austin was also employed at Gamemaster Taxidermy. Austin would have turned 23 on Tuesday. He married Ryleigh Hunter Pfeiffer on Oct. 20, 2018.
Wednesday, his family declined comment.
According to abcnews.go.com, the incident happened Sunday in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, a 13.2-million-acre area in southeast Alaska, while the hunter was on a 10-day moose hunt with a friend near the Chisana River drainage at the time of the attack.
The attack occurred in a remote area approximately 50 air miles from the nearest community of Northway, Alaska, and 130 miles from park headquarters, according to the National Park Service.
The attack occurred near the Cottonwood Creek drainage, an area of mixed tundra and forest lands with dense vegetation, while the hunting part was salvaging meat from a moose harvested the day before, according to a news release issued Thursday by the National Park Service.
The NPS said an investigation determined that it was a surprise attack and that a defensive firearm or other deterrent, such as bear spray, was not readily available to the victim, according to Thursday’s news release.
The NPS said it was notified of the attack at approximately 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Through coordination with a local air taxi service used by hunters, the NPS ensured the site was secure and that the victim’s hunting partner was safely evacuated from the area.
The following day, the NPS coordinated with Alaska Wildlife troopers to recover the victim’s body, which was transported to the Alaska State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage.
Park rangers found no evidence that the bear remained in the area, and no other park visitors are known to be in the immediate vicinity of the incident location. The site is extremely remote, but park rangers will continue to monitor the area for bear activity. All meat from the moose was salvaged as required by the state of Alaska hunting regulations, according to the updated news release.
The death of the hunter is the first known bear mauling fatality recorded at Wrangell-St. Elias — which is the same size as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined — since the park was established 40 years ago in 1980, according to the U.S. National Park Service.
Public information officer Jan Maslen of the National Park Service could not be reached for comment.
In the news release, the park service urged visitors to be aware of bears when traveling in the backcountry and to take precautions like carrying bear spray.
Grizzly bear-inflicted injuries to humans in developed areas averaged approximately one per year during the 1930s through the 1950s, and four per year during the 1960s. Grizzly bear-caused human injuries in developed areas then decreased to one injury every two years during the 1970s. Since 1980, there have been only two grizzly bear-caused human injuries in developed areas, an average of approximately one every 20 years. Over the same time span, there have been 34 human injuries caused by grizzly bears in the backcountry, an average of one per year, according to online information from the national park service.
Snyder Funeral Homes on Lexington Avenue is handling arrangements.
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