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Audiotape Records Fatal Bear Mauling

October 09, 2003|Jia-Rui Chong and Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writers

Timothy Treadwell can be heard desperately fighting off a grizzly bear on a three-minute audiotape of the fatal mauling that claimed his life and that of his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, in Katmai National Park and Preserve earlier this week, Alaska State Troopers disclosed Wednesday.

The Malibu couple had been camping in a remote corner of the 4-million-acre park on Alaska's southwest coast for several days to observe the bears. Treadwell, 46, was a self-taught bear expert who frequently described his adventures with the animals on television and in schools.

Their remains were found Monday by the bush pilot who had flown to their camp to pick them up.

The audiotape is from a hand-held video camera that Treadwell used to record his encounters with the bears, some of which weigh more than 1,000 pounds, police said. There was no video of the attack, said Greg Wilkinson, public information officer for the Alaska State Troopers.

Wilkinson said he had not heard the tape, but that quotes from it had been provided to him by investigators. Police believe the tape was made Sunday night. Treadwell was last heard from at noon Sunday, when he used a satellite phone to call a friend in Malibu.

According to Wilkinson, the tape begins with sounds of Treadwell screaming that he is being attacked and calling for help to Huguenard, who was apparently still inside a tent.

"It's obvious that the attack was going on before the tape was turned on," said Wilkinson, who then repeated quotes from the tapes.

"Come out here; I'm being killed out here," Treadwell said.

"Play dead!" Huguenard yelled in reply.

That strategy is commonly used to pacify angry bears in an attack. But Treadwell told Huguenard the strategy wasn't working and she then urged him to "fight back."

Treadwell, who never carried weapons, then asked her to get a pan and to hit the bear, police said.

At that point, the tape stops. Much of it is fuzzy or inaudible, Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said investigators had found the camera inside a bag they had picked up at the couple's campsite. He said he did not know whether one of the National Park Service rangers or state troopers who responded to the scene had put the camera in the bag or whether Huguenard had done so before she was killed.

The beginning of the tape included both video and audio of Treadwell interacting with the bears in the days before the attack.

"The troopers who saw the tape said that, at one point, Treadwell is doing something and a bear suddenly comes up behind him and he has that 'oh my God' look on his face," Wilkinson said. "I'm sure all along he knew that he was playing with fire and that probably was part of the appeal."

Park Service officials for years have been critical of Treadwell, saying he got too close to wild animals and made the mistake of treating them like people. His friends, however, said Treadwell's photos and 1999 book, "Among Grizzlies," helped educate people about bears.

Treadwell had spent the last 13 summers in Alaska. He had been there since June, traveling to remote locations where he could pitch his tent and view bears. Huguenard, 37, spent time with him in July and traveled to be with him in September.

Dean Andrew, owner of Andrew Airways in Alaska, said his company had flown Treadwell on three trips into the Alaskan wilderness this year. The last trip was a spur-of-the-moment decision that took Treadwell and Huguenard back into Katmai on Sept. 29.

"The morning of the pick-up, there was no call," Andrew said. "That was a red flag."

The pilot who was supposed to pick up the pair was a good friend of Treadwell and did not want to speak to the media, Andrew added.

Andrew said the pilot knew something was wrong when he landed near Treadwell's camp at 1:10 p.m. on Monday. Usually, Treadwell would contact the approaching pilot through a hand-held radio and then arrange his gear on the shoreline of the lake where the pilot landed his float plane.

On Monday, the pilot did not hear the familiar voice and noticed that the camp was still pitched about 100 yards up a hill from the lake. The pilot got out of the plane, shouted and walked toward the camp when, as Andrew described it, he "got a strange feeling that something wasn't right."

Andrew said the pilot barely made it back to the plane as a bear charged him. The pilot took off. Once airborne, he saw that a bear was in Treadwell's camp and standing on top of a human body.

John Quinley, a National Park Service spokesman, said rangers were still trying late Wednesday to retrieve the bodies of two grizzlies that were shot by investigators who went to the camp Monday to recover the remains of Treadwell and Huguenard.

He said he wasn't sure if the rangers had succeeded and that weather in the area had been poor.

Investigators hope to perform a necropsy on the dead bears to determine whether they were the ones that attacked the couple.

Dr. Franc G. Fallico, the acting chief medical examiner for Alaska, said that even someone knowledgeable about bear behavior would have little chance of surviving an attack by an angry bear.

"I personally have autopsied two other bear maulings," Fallico said on Tuesday. "Both guys got a high-powered rifle shot into the bear and the bear still killed them. That's pretty significant, isn't it?"

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