While hiking alone in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve on Friday, August 24, Richard White stopped to take photographs of a grizzly bear from a confirmed distance of 75 yards. He got as close as 60 yards for the last five shots. Previous estimates said he might have been photographing from 40 yards away.
Based on timestamps of White’s recovered camera, he photographed the bear for approximately seven-and-a-half minutes, beginning at 12:58 pm. It is unclear what happened in the last few seconds of the encounter with the bear, but they would be the last few seconds of White’s life.
Later in the afternoon, the 49-year-old resident of San Diego, California was fatally mauled by the bear along the Toklat River in Denali on his solo hike through the park. He had a 5-day permit for traversing the park. He had been there for three nights prior to the attack.
This was the first known bear mauling fatality on record in Denali National Park and Preserve going back 90 years. In all of Alaska, it was the first fatal bear attack in five years.
Later on Friday, three hikers traveling along the Toklat River came upon White’s abandoned backpack. They found further evidence of a violent struggle when they noticed torn clothing and blood at the site of the backpack.
The hikers immediately hiked back to the rest area and notified National Park Service (NPS) staff of the findings. By then, it was approximately 5:30 pm.
By 8:00 pm searchers were in the air in helicopter. Only 35 minutes later, they located the remains of the victim. At least one grizzly bear was still on the scene, although there may have been more bears, according to a NPS press release.
Initial evidence indicates that the attack occurred proximate to the river’s open braided gravel bar, although the bear subsequently dragged the remains to a more secluded, brushy cache site. After conducting an initial surveillance of the site, the rangers determined that the recovery of the remains would need to wait until daylight due to the presence of bears and the waning light.
The next day the bear was identified with photographs from the camera and shot and killed. A necropsy revealed that officials had in fact captured the corresponding bear because of items found in its stomach.
An emergency closure has been put in place that prohibits all backcountry hiking and camping in that that area and nearby areas until further notice. No other known park visitors were registered in that area.
The photographs from White’s camera are not being released at this time as they are still being used in the investigation, according to a park spokeswoman.