A Sitka, Alaska forestry worker went to buy groceries last week and never returned.
On Oct. 11, 54-year-old Tomas Puerta left his Peril Strait job site in a skiff to make the 40- to 50-mile trip for food. The journey through flat, protected waters should have taken about two hours, but he was reported missing three days later, ABC News reported.
Now, Alaskan authorities believe they’ve located the missing man — or what’s left of him. On Sunday afternoon, the crew of a good Samaritan boat spotted an unsecured skiff on the beach of Chichagof Island’s Poison Cove, 30 miles north of Sitka. They noticed the vessel’s motor was not in the standard anchor position. Suspecting something was amiss, the party ventured ashore to investigate and stumbled upon a brown bear and her cub. They immediately called the Coast Guard, KCAW reported.
“Things just didn’t seem right to them, so they went back out to their boat and notified Coast Guard sector Juneau,” Don Kluting, Sitka Mountain Rescue captain, told KCAW.
Responders, which included an Alaska State Trooper, Sitka police and Sitka Mountain Rescue, discovered campsite with a backpack and groceries. A trail of clothing and disturbed flora led responders to a brown bear cache, which contained partially eaten human remains, 50 yards from the beach. Authorities also discovered evidence of a struggle, ABC reported.
Evidence from the island — which reportedly houses one of the world’s largest brown bear populations — and information from family and friends helped to tentatively identify the mauled victim as Puerta. The remains were sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy, KCAW reported.
Sitka police and state troopers searched for the bear(s) responsible for the attack on Monday. Normally, bears who attack humans are killed, according to KCAW.
Doug Larsen, southeast regional supervisor for the wildlife conservation sector of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, told KCAW that bear encounters are usually not violent, except in certain instances such as a sow defending her young.
“In most cases, when bears and people come in contact, it’s sort of reciprocal: both want to get out of one another’s way, and bears typically will flee, assuming they’ve got a place to get away to or an avenue out,” he said. “When they’re surprised to where they don’t have a place they can flee to, then it’s that fight or flight, and in those cases, there have been instances where a bear will come after a human, basically to protect themselves.”
Recent brown bear attacks in the state have not been fatal. Last month, the Anchorage Daily News reported that a sow bit a female tourist, but she sustained only minor injuries. In June, an Anchorage woman suffered an ankle fracture and punctured blood vessels from a bear attempting to protect her cub.