Hiker dead, searcher hurt after Eagle River bear mauling
An Eagle River man who went missing after he reportedly went out for a hike Monday has been found dead, with a searcher injured Wednesday after police say he was mauled by a bear.
Although Anchorage police initially said 44-year-old Michael Soltis had been killed by a brown bear, Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials didn't confirm that detail Wednesday.
APD spokesman MJ Thim said Soltis' body was found Wednesday near the 600 block of Hiland Road, shortly after a search party member was attacked by a brown bear nearby.
Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh said biologists were searching the area for bears Wednesday afternoon. Finding the specific animal involved in the mauling was like finding a needle in a haystack, he said, because it had been several hours since that animal was last seen.
Soltis' body had been recovered from the field Wednesday afternoon and sent to the state medical examiner's office, police said.
"What we believe is that the victim was attacked by the bear and taken to this location," Thim said. "And then brown bear was protecting its prey, its find when the volunteer group was in the area. And the adult male volunteer was attacked."
Elisabeth Claus, Soltis' fiancee, posted a series of photos from the area alongside updates on the search Wednesday. A GoFundMe account set up for the Soltis family mentions that they have "a child on the way."
A perimeter had been set up around Soltis after he was found dead.
Police were told he was last seen around 5 p.m. on Monday near the area of Mile 8 of Hiland Road. Friends of Soltis told KTVA he went to work on Monday but didn't show up for work on Tuesday. A co-worker went over to check on him and discovered thawing chicken on the counter and vegetables being prepared for dinner.
Friends and family set up a search party to find him, but police said dispatchers received a report at about 10:30 a.m. that one of the searchers "had been attacked by a brown bear near the area at the dead end of Hiland Road."
The victim was sent to the hospital with serious leg injuries, but is expected to live.
Alaska State Troopers sent in a helicopter to search by air.
According to a Tuesday post in the Hiking in Alaska Facebook group, a meet up had been scheduled to search for Soltis.
"And yes, we are organizing a search party within the Hiland area," Mike Conner wrote in the Facebook post. "All trails need to be searched. No one knows for sure which trail he would have gone on."
The search crew met up at Soltis' house located at the 1000 block of Hiland Road, according to one of the searchers Wednesday.
Marsh said the state’s most recent fatal bear maulings both date back to a year ago. Patrick “Jack” Cooper, 16, died June 18, 2017 when he was attacked during the Bird Ridge Race, a day before 27-year-old Erin Johnson was killed working near the Delta Junction-area Pogo Mine. Both maulings involved black bears, which were killed after the attacks.
Fish and Game officials were leaving the area Wednesday evening, but Marsh urged people to avoid the area.
Emily Carlson, Scott Jensen and Chris Klint contributed information to this story.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.
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