Investigation ongoing after bear kills soldier, injures another in remote part of JBER

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Thursday update:

The U.S. Army on Thursday identified the soldier killed by a bear on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as Staff Sgt. Seth Michael Plant, 30, an infantryman from the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was from St. Augustine, Florida.

Original story:

Military and wildlife officials continue to investigate the fatal bear mauling this week that killed one soldier and injured another in a remote training area on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

It’s not clear what kind of bear attacked the U.S. Army Alaska soldiers Tuesday afternoon, but Capt. Derek DeGraaf, with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, said it was a sow with one or two cubs.


“There were three people in the area, two were close to the den. One of those people was injured, the other was killed,” DeGraaf said Wednesday.

The second soldier’s injuries were not life-threatening, DeGraaf said.

Investigating officials have not yet released the name of the soldier who was killed. Their family has been notified, but per Army protocols, local officials are waiting at least 24 hours before releasing additional details about the incident to the public, according to U.S. Army Alaska spokesman John Pennell.

More information is expected to be available Thursday morning, Pennell said.

Though the general location of the attack is west of the Anchorage Regional Landfill, not far from Eagle River, the large area includes rugged tracts and is closed to recreational activities. Bears tend to emerge from winter dens in the Chugach Mountains around the military base as snow recedes in the range.

It’s not clear what kind of of bear protection, if any, the soldiers had on hand. With the exception of live-fire exercises, on-base trainings are rarely conducted with live ammunition in service weapons. At the time, the small group was preparing the area for land-based navigation exercises, essentially orienteering training with a map and compass — considered an essential skillset for troops.

Investigations into the animal and determinations about whether it will be relocated or killed are being handled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Division, which did not return phone calls Wednesday afternoon.

Multiple agencies responded to the incident Tuesday afternoon. Three Alaska National Guard helicopters were sent into the attack area for what Guard communications director Alan Brown described as an “urgent medevac mission.” Pararescuemen from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 212th Rescue Squadron were part of the recovery and rescue operations.

Since the mauling happened on a military installation, the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division is the principal entity handling the investigation, which is standard protocol for sudden death investigations on JBER.

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.