JUNEAU, Alaska >> A bear that mauled two cruise ship wilderness guides during a hiking excursion in Alaska attacked so quickly that there was little time to defend against the animal, the CEO of the cruise ship company said.
The attack occurred after the guides and a group of hikers from the cruise vessel Wilderness Explorer rounded a “semi-blind corner” and found themselves between the bear and her cub, UnCruise Adventures CEO Dan Blanchard told the Juneau Empire in an interview published Tuesday.
“I can’t express enough about how rapidly this happened,” Blanchard said.
The guides are crew members of the 74-passenger vessel and receive training on bear safety and other topics each spring, he said.
The Coast Guard rescued the injured guides, who were identified by Alaska state troopers as 41-year-old Anna Powers of Hawaii and 26-year-old Michael Justa of Juneau.
Justa was treated and released the in Sitka. Powers was in satisfactory condition Wednesday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
The Aug. 18 hike in Tongass National Forest has been part of the Wilderness Explorer’s regular eight-day itinerary since the early 2000s.
The lead guide was in front of the 22 passengers who were hiking and the other guide was at the rear when the bear attacked.
The group was walking single file and had spread out as much as 200 feet along a trail. When the group came upon the bear and cub, the lead guide put out her arms and told the party to back up, Blanchard said.
The hikers had started to do so when the adult animal attacked the guide, who didn’t have a chance to use her bear spray, he said.
“Within seconds, the bear stood up, groaned so loud that every person in the group heard the groan, including the guide in the back, and charged at very short range,” Blanchard said.
The guide at the back of the group ran to the front, getting out his bear spray. The bear charged the guide, who started spraying the animal from about 20 feet away.
“He said it was a direct hit into the eyes and mouth,” Blanchard said. “As he was spraying it, the bear reached down, grabbed his leg.”
The male guide’s injuries were relatively minor, according to Blanchard, who declined to elaborate. The Coast Guard has said the victims each sustained severe lacerations and multiple injuries.
Authorities have said they have no plans to hunt down the bear. Tongass officials say bears are common in the area near a stream filled with salmon at this time of the year.