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Teacher attacked by brown bear at the Seward airport

A man walking his dog on the Seward airport runway was mauled by a brown bear in the early morning darkness Thursday, authorities said.

The man, identified as Ronn Hemstock, 55, was taken to Providence Seward Medical Center, and then later flown to Anchorage for further treatment, authorities said. Seward police Chief Tom Clemons said the incident at the Seward Municipal Airport was reported just after 6:45 a.m.

"We had a (man) that was attacked and mauled by a brown bear," Clemons said. "He will survive — his injuries are bad, but they're not life-threatening at this point."

Hemstock has been a teacher at Seward High School for the past 20 years, said Kenai Peninsula Borough School District spokeswoman Pegge Erkeneff. He is also the school's wrestling coach, she said.

Hemstock was listed in fair condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, an official said.

He was well enough to call Seward High School's assistant wrestling coach with last-minute reminders and instructions for a tournament beginning Friday, Erkeneff said.

Shannon McCarthy, a spokeswoman with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, which operates the airport, said the mauling took place on the airport's runway.

"At that time, apparently, he ran into a sow with cubs," McCarthy said. "He was able to make a 911 call, and then the sow came back but didn't attack again."

A man walking along a Seward airport runway with his dog was mauled by a brown bear in the early morning darkness Thursday, authorities said. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

The runway was closed for about an hour after the mauling and reopened at about 9:40 a.m.

Police were searching for the bear and alerted biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Clemons said police weren't sure whether cubs were present during the mauling.

All indicators suggest the mauling resulted from a surprise encounter — Hemstock startled a bear that reacted to a perceived threat, the bear subdued the threat and ran off, Marsh said.

The Seward airport is at the head of Resurrection Bay, about 2 miles north of downtown Seward.

McCarthy, from the Transportation Department, said the airport perimeter is marked by signs warning against trespassing, and a fence separates the airport from an area devoted to general aviation. The airport, which was receiving repairs to electrical conduits damaged during flooding last month, is also scheduled to receive security upgrades — including a full perimeter fence – during a project beginning construction in 2018.

Seward City News reported that Hemstock owns and maintains a plane at the local airport. FAA records show a fixed-wing single engine aircraft registered to Hemstock located in Seward.

Thursday's mauling comes about a week after residents of a subdivision near Seward reported a series of chicken-coop break-ins by brown bears, leaving locals afraid to let their children go outdoors. Three bears — a sow and two cubs — were later shot dead while raiding coops.

Corrections: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that a perimeter fence that the state plans to install at the airport in 2018 was already in place. The airport has no perimeter fence. 

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