Boy Scout Leader Held “Captive” by Bear, Rescued by Troop
OutdoorHub Reporters 12.21.15
Three Boy Scouts in New Jersey are being hailed as heroes after rescuing their leader, 50-year-old Christopher Petronino, from a bear den last Sunday.
According to CBS News, Petronino and the three scouts, aged 10 to 12, were hiking near Split Rock Reservoir in Morris County when they came along a cave. Petronino said he was familiar with the cave and wanted to give the scouts a glimpse of what an unoccupied bear den looked like—only to find out that the cave was very much occupied. The black bear grabbed his foot and pulled the scoutmaster inside. He suffered bite wounds to his legs, shoulders, and back during the struggle.
“Petronino struck the bear twice in the head with a rock hammer. He then pulled his sweatshirt over his head and curled into the fetal position,” Bob Considine, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), told nj.com. “He yelled to the scouts, who were outside the cave, to leave and go get help.”
The Boy Scouts retreated to a safe place and immediately called 911, but were unable to direct authorities to exactly where they were in the 625-acre wilderness. Officials said the scouts then returned to the cave and attempted to communicate with Petronino, who was keeping the bear at bay with the hammer. With the bear blocking the entrance, Petronino asked the scouts to leave food near the mouth of the cave to draw the bear out. The bear did not take the bait.
Finally, the scouts decided to try and smoke the bear out by building a fire near the cave’s entrance. Officials said the smoke drew the bear out and a dog with the scouts managed to scare the animal off. The fire also allowed authorities to pinpoint their location.
“Fortunately the scouts had enough presence of mind that they were actually able, besides calling us on their cellphone, they were actually able to build a signal fire to aid the ground and aerial units,” Rockaway Township Police Chief Martin McParland told The Christian Science Monitor.
Petronino was airlifted to a nearby hospital and was treated for minor scratches and bite marks. The scouts suffered no injuries from the incident and were later released to their families. The bear behind the attack has not been located, but DEP officials say it was likely attempting to hibernate in the cave when Petronino encountered it. Officials do not consider the bear to be a danger to the public.
Boy Scouts of America has not yet commented on the encounter. It should be noted that the organization does recognize exceptional bravery, especially when in the face of danger. The Honor Medal with Crossed Palms and Honor Medal are both awarded to scouts who have demonstrated “unusual heroism and skill” in saving a life.