Anchorage newlywed victim of fatal bear mauling
A black bear moved back and forth between two women in a ferocious attack earlier this week that left a newlywed dead and her co-worker injured a few miles away from the Pogo Mine, their employer said Thursday.
Erin Johnson, a 27-year-old Anchorage woman who was married just two weeks before the attack, died on scene. Ellen Trainor, 38, of Fairbanks, sustained minor injuries in the attack Monday.
Johnson and Trainor, employees of ABR Inc., an environmental services firm which contracts with Pogo Mine, were collecting geological samples at the time of the attack.
ABR president Steve Murphy said the women were trained in bear safety, and both had extensive outdoor experience. Minutes before the attack, the women were discussing bear awareness, he said, recounting details from other employees who were present when authorities interviewed Trainor, according to CBS News.
Murphy said the bear was 10 feet away when the women first saw it.
“The conclusion would be that they were stalked,” he said.
Trainor, a research biologist, was knocked down first, according to Murphy. The woman used bear deterrent spray at some point to no avail. Murphy didn’t know if Johnson, a research biologist, was able to use her bear spray.
The animal briefly retreated, but it came back, Murphy said.
“The bear moved between them more than once, and Ellen is certain that she sprayed the bear very thoroughly,” he said. “But it was just a hyper-aggressive bear.”
Still, Murphy believes the bear spray saved Trainor’s life.
Trainor, who lost her glasses and also lost track of Johnson, radioed a mayday alert and was flown by helicopter to the mine. She was then taken by ambulance to Fairbanks, where she was treated and released the same day.
The helicopter returned to the scene, but the bear had carried Johnson’s body from the attack site, Murphy said. Responders located Johnson’s body and the bear, which was fatally shot.
Trainor “was very heroic in her efforts to deter that bear,” Murphy said. “I feel fortunate that we didn’t lose two people.”
Murphy says Johnson was a highly valued member of their team.
“She was such an outstanding field biologist,” he said. “She loved being outdoors. She loved being out in the field.”
He said Johnson was on the rise in their company.
“Erin’s contributions were so outstanding that we felt that we needed to promote her and compensate her for all the good work she did for us,” he said. “She received a promotion this year, which was just because of exceptional performance and she just deserved it.”
Friday, Johnson’s family released the following statement:
Erin was a beautiful, compassionate, and passionate person– who lived her brief 27 years to the fullest. Being outside, exploring wild and remote places with her best friend and husband Abe, her parents Barb and Steve, and her extended family of friends and loved ones was one of her favorite joys.
A life-long Alaskan, Erin grew up in the mountains, especially those behind her parents’ home in Chugiak. A talented and tenacious athlete, she represented the United States as a member of the Junior Olympic Nordic Ski Team in 2006 and 2007.
She explored more corners of the state through personal and work trips than most people could ever dream up in a lifetime. A geologist and botanist by training, she studied at the University of Montana and University of Alaska Anchorage and had a deep scientific appreciation for the nature she loved to explore. She skied, packrafted, mountain biked, and backpacked her way around Alaska and the world.
Erin’s wonderful energy, quirky sense of humor, dedication, sparkle, generosity, and talent touched everyone she knew, and left them all the better. Her passions extended to gardening, playing her violin, making art in many forms, a love of board games, foraging, and preserving the bounty she harvested.
Erin’s family and friends request that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be sent The Erin Johnson Memorial Fund, established to support two of Erin’s most cherished values– connecting youth with the outdoors and conserving Alaska’s wild places. Dontaions can be made at https://alaskacf.org/blog/funds/erin-k-johnson-memorial-fund/.
Ja Dorris, a former ski coach of Johnson’s, said she never turned down the chance to be outdoors.
“She always had a smile on her face,” he said. “She was happy to be there– I just remember her loving to be outdoors. No matter what it was. And the weather didn’t matter. Some kids go, ‘Oh, it’s too cold to ski.’ For Erin, it didn’t matter.”
Ken Marsh with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says that while early reports suggest the attacking bear was predatory, biologists are examining the events and the bear involved before drawing a definitive conclusion.
Bears may approach humans out of curiosity, Marsh says, to test dominance, because they’re food-conditioned, or rarely because they are predatory.
When a bear is encountered at close range, people are advised to stand their ground, ready their deterrents, group up and watch the bear. Stay firm and talk to the bear in a firm but calm voice. Don’t play dead, run, or panic. If blocking the bear’s path, try to move out of its way. If the bear continues to approach, follows, or is intent on a person, assert your dominance and become more aggressive. Don’t retreat. Shout, make yourself look large, use your deterrent or, if you don’t have a deterrent, throw rocks or sticks in an effort to drive off the bear. If the bear attacks, fight with anything you have, concentrating on the animal’s face or muzzle.