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Bear Mauling at Big Horn Pass

by Bob Boyer (RDD '67) |

We have been in touch with Bob at Cody, Wyoming from ti me-to-time. Bob has done an excellent job of recording the events that happened during late June, 1977 at Big Horn Pass, which is about 25 miles southwest of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Bob is critically ill with cancer, but has been forging ahead and is maintaining his great sense of humor.

From this point on the story is told in Bob's words.

We were not able to include all of the material, but most of the story is intact. Outdoor Life in January 1978 had an article about the bear mauling and subsequent jumper rescue mission. Bill Craig (MSC 66) also gave information.

On June 27, 1977 I was back on the jump list following back surgery in '76. I was in the process of training the new dispatcher as the noon hour approached. We picked up radio traffic from Yellowstone National Park about a back country emergency. "Bear mauling" and "Big Horn Pass" tuned me into the excitement unfolding.

From the tower I could see the jumpers headed for the parking lot and a typical "crew action" drive to town for lunch" I realized there would be a need for helicopter evacuation a I remember turning to the new dispatcher and saying, "Don't ever blow the whistle unless you have a confirmed request. However, I'm going to break that rule because our jumpers and pilots are leaving the base and I know YNP's second helicopter isn't in place for its contract."

As jumpers began suiting up the Park dispatcher came over the radio, requesting 6 jumpers, especially those with emergency medical training. Ed Leritz (MSO 70), assistant foreman, assumed communication with the Park.

The flight to the mauling site was short. Our survey of wind/terrain conditions was hasty and when all was said and done, there were 6 parachutes scattered over a large sidehill meadow and bordering timber.

During the interim time since dispatch, Tom Black (MSO 62), EMT-trained and a focal part of Yellowstone Park's emergency action plan, had made the trip to the mauling site in a Bell helicopter.

By the time the jumpers had regrouped on the ground, Tom was with the victim, and had established radio communication with our squad leader. It was probably less than an hour between dispatch and the time we reached the injured man . It wasn't a pretty sight...his face was literally gone. The grizzly bear had inflicted the majority of its wrath on the head and face after knocking the biologist down and biting his thigh. He had lost an eye, most of his teeth were broken or missing. The flaps of skin later took some creative surgery to put back in place.

Tom Black deserves the lion's share of the credit for appropriate first aid and the evacuation effort. The attack had occurred on a ridge top, and the closest the helicopter could get was to another lower elevation ridge separated from us by a stand of timber. One of the jumpers held the IV bottle and monitored the tubing and saline solution flow as we left the site of the attack. Another monitored Dr. Gilbert's airway and breathing, because he was inadvert­ently swallowing blood, as well as taking some down his windpipe. The blood was coagulating in his stomach and he was coughing to clear his throat. CPR possibilities weren't discussed because both cheeks were gone and intubator tubing was an unknown process to us then. Tom maintained a level head, and that calmed the rest of us. First aid completed, we needed all available manpower to carry the stretcher down through the timber and up the smaller ridge where the helicopter was waiting. All of us breathed a sigh of relief as Dr. Gilbert, Tom, and the pilot took off for the highway some 12 miles away where the ambulance was waiting. Once there, ambulance paramedics began additional IV's, then drove to the West Yellowstone airport, and a connecting flight to Salt Lake City, where more sophisticated medical help was waiting and ready, (Dr. Gilbert, who was an assistant professor at Utah State University, along with undergraduate Bruce Hastings, had been involved in a study of grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park at the direction of the National Park Service. It took 11½ hours to sew his face together. Gilbert estimated the doctors put nearly 1,000 stitches in his head alone. He recovered and went back to his original work as a biologist.)

This may have been the first YNP rescue involving jumpers from the West Yellowstone base. Missoula jumpers had had a major role in the rescue operation resulting from the 1959 earth­ quake when campers were killed in an avalanche and Quake Lake was formed as a result of the rock slide north of the Park.

In addition to myself, the other jumpers on the rescue mission were: Bill Craig (MSO 66), Rob Putzker (MSO 74), Gary Dunning (RAC 69), Ed Leritz (MSO 70) and Roger Cox (MSO 69) a Bill Werhane was base manager and spotter on that mission.