Man airlifted to hospital after bear attack in B.C. Rockies: RCMP

A British Columbia man was airlifted to a Calgary hospital with “significant injuries” Thursday after fending off a grizzly bear attack on a mountainside in the Rocky Mountains near the B.C.-Alberta border, according to RCMP and wildlife officials.

Police said a father and son were tracking a bear west of Highway 43 south of Elkford, B.C., when the 36-year-old son was “attacked suddenly by an adult grizzly bear” around 3 p.m. PT.

The man, who police said lives in nearby Sparwood, B.C., suffered broken bones and cuts and scrapes on his body, according to the release and a Friday afternoon statement from the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS).

“The man was able to defend himself with his firearm and the bear ran off,” while his father called for help, Elk Valley RCMP said in a news release Friday morning.

BCCOS later said the man was hunting.

On Monday, an Elk Valley RCMP spokesperson said he didn’t have more information on what animals the men were hunting, but said the incident is not under criminal investigation.

The rescue was complicated by difficult, steep terrain and unpredictable weather, according to Elkford Search and Rescue (SAR) search manager Kevin Atherton, who was on the scene after B.C. Emergency Health Services asked for help. Local fire crews and paramedics were already there, according to police.

“The subject was actually about 500 metres deep into the bush in some very thick and rugged terrain,” said Atherton. “There are some very steep sections. It was an area that had been logged previously, so as it grows in, it grows in pretty thick.”

Atherton says he called nearby crews in Sparwood who used ropes to get the man about 200 metres down the mountain. He was then placed on a stretcher before Fernie SAR crews retrieved him via helicopter.

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“That’s always our best option … if we can get the subject out straight up instead of going through all that bush,” he said.

Crews attached the man’s stretcher to a cable, and hoisted him up into the helicopter while RCMP and wildlife officers “stood guard” around them, Atherton said.

“There’s a wounded grizzly bear out there that has already done some damage and that’s top of our minds before we go out there,” he said.

The man was flown to a helipad in Elkford, where a STARS air ambulance then flew him to Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, around 130 kilometres to the northwest, police said. Highway 43 was briefly closed as emergency services considered landing locations for the aircraft.

Search and rescue crews helped RCMP, wildlife officers, paramedics and firefighters with the complex rescue of a man who was attacked by a grizzly bear near Elkford, B.C., RCMP said. (Sparwood Search and Rescue/Facebook)

The release said the man was in stable condition when he left the scene, and BCCOS says he remains in hospital as of Friday afternoon.

STARS confirmed the rescue on Friday morning but a spokesperson from Alberta Health Services said he did not have the patient’s consent to share public updates on his condition.

Conservation officers searched for the bear and found it dead, having succumbed to its wounds, around 9 p.m., the BCCOS said. It did not say whether it was the same bear the men were reported to have been tracking.

“Officers are confident that they located the bear involved in the attack,” said the statement posted to the BCCOS Facebook page, noting they are working with counterparts in Alberta to interview the victim and investigate.

Atherton said he and other responders felt “incredible relieved” after the STARS flight took off for Calgary.

He says SAR volunteers are trained to extract injured people but this was the first grizzly attack he’d dealt with since becoming involved with Elkford SAR six years ago.

Crews descend on a cable where someone is sitting in the forest loaded up on a stretcher.
Members of Elkford, Sparwood and Fernie Search and Rescue crews teamed up in Thursday’s operation. (Submitted by Elkford Search and Rescue)

“Thank you to the many personnel, both volunteer and paid, who worked together to conduct a successful rescue,” Sparwood Search and Rescue said in a Facebook post on Thursday evening. 

“And thanks to members of the public for yielding to the numerous emergency vehicles and giving us room to work safely.”

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