Contract Alaska pipeline worker mauled by black bear

JUNEAU, Alaska - A contract worker for the trans-Alaska pipeline system was mauled by a bear and seriously injured while running on a public road near a pump station, a spokesperson for the pipeline operator said Tuesday.

The incident occurred Friday evening on a route used for recreation by employees based at the remote Interior Pump Station 5, which is on the south side of the Brooks Range, said Katie Pesznecker with Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

She said security personnel went to look for the worker, identified by Alaska State Troopers as Michael Becwar, 53, of Wasilla, when they noticed he had been gone for about 80 minutes.

They found Becwar on the side of the road with serious injuries, she said. He was taken by medical transport to a hospital in Fairbanks, which is about 160 air miles south, she said. Pesznecker could not give details on his injuries but said he's expected to recover.

Troopers, in an online dispatch, said a necropsy performed by the Department of Fish and Game confirmed an adult male black bear killed by pipeline security personnel Sunday was “very likely” the animal involved in the mauling.

Glenn Stout, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist, said the incident was determined to be predatory based on information from Becwar. Becwar reported seeing the bear on the first leg of his run “a couple hundred yards” away and again on his return, when the bear approached him, Stout said.

In both cases, Becwar raised his hands, hollered at the animal and made his presence known, Stout said.

Becwar “fought it off, continued to fight it off for what he described for, like, 15 minutes,” stabbing the bear with a pocket knife at one point, Stout said.

The biologist said the bear was not emaciated but was in poor condition.

Pesznecker said the pipeline operator takes steps aimed at minimizing encounters with bears, including herding bears away with vehicles and keeping garbage inside buildings and outdoor areas clean.

“We say on the pipeline, ‘You let bears be bears.’ We co-exist with them and do a lot to stay safe around them," she said.

Security guards receive firearms and other training in case incidents occur, she said.

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