Friday, June 23, 2017

Erin Johnson, 27, of Anchorage, killed Monday by a black bear while she was doing contract work for Pogo Mine in Interior Alaska

Erin Johnson, 27, of Anchorage, was identified by her family and troopers Thursday as the person killed Monday by a black bear while she was doing contract work for Pogo Mine in Interior Alaska.

Johnson, a geologist, and other contractors were working at an exploration site several miles from Pogo's main camp when the mauling occurred. A second employee injured in the attack was identified by troopers as Ellen Trainor, 38 of Fairbanks.

At the direction of Alaska Wildlife Troopers, the bear was killed.

Johnson and Trainor worked for Alaska Biological Research Inc. Both women are biologists (earlier it said geologists!); they were collecting soil samples at the time of the mauling, said ABR president Stephen Murphy.

Johnson's death was the second fatal black bear mauling in two days. On Sunday, 16-year-old Patrick Cooper was killed by a bear during a mountain race near Anchorage.

In a statement, Johnson's family said she was a lifelong Alaskan, studied at the University of Montana and University of Alaska Anchorage, and was married less than two weeks before her death.

Johnson attended Chugiak High School, graduating in 2007, said husband Abe Schmidt.

"Being outside, exploring wild and remote places with her best friend and husband Abe, her parents Barb and Steve, and her extended family of friends and loved ones was one of her favorite joys," the family said.

Erin Johnson was killed by a bear while working at the Pogo Mine on Monday, June 19, 2017. (Courtesy of Abe Schmidt)

Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the animal responsible for the attack was an adult male black bear. The carcass of the animal, which mine officials said was shot at the scene, was retrieved.

A preliminary examination of the case, Marsh said, appeared to rule out any sign that the mauling was the result of a surprise encounter or a defensive attack by the bear.

"Initial indications, the information we have, are consistent with a predatory attack," Marsh said.

Fish and Game regional management coordinator Doreen Parker McNeill said department officials and wildlife troopers are continuing to investigate the mauling.

A necropsy has been completed, McNeill said, and little material was found in the black bear's stomach. But officials are waiting for the entire set of lab results to release more information, she said.

Murphy, the ABR president, said employees told him the fatal mauling involved an "extremely aggressive, predatory black bear."

"The bear appears to have stalked them," Murphy said the employees told him. "It came up from behind them and attacked."

It happened so fast that neither woman had time to deploy bear spray initially, Murphy said. Trainor reportedly sprayed the black bear twice, he said, which likely saved her life.

The bear retreated for a short time but returned, Murphy said. It came back more than once, he said.

"There was some duration to the attacks. Erin suffered the brunt of it," Murphy said.

"Both women were amazingly courageous during the attack," he said, adding he wanted to see the official report before commenting further on the mauling.

In the history of ABR Inc., the company has never experienced a fatal bear attack or even one resulting in injuries, the president said. Pogo Mine has contracted the company to perform work there in previous years; crews frequently go into bear country, he said.

There were six employees working at Pogo Mine, separated into pairs, when the mauling happened. The pairs of workers, who had been dropped off in different areas by a helicopter, were in radio contact, Murphy said. All six employees were carrying bear spray, he said.

ABR employees are offered bear awareness training. Johnson and Trainor had gone through the most recent training in April, Murphy said. And the company allows employees to carry firearms in the field as long as they undergo instruction, he said.

Pogo Mine left the decision of field safety to ABR, and the crew opted for bear spray, Murphy said.

Pogo Mine external affairs manager Lorna Shaw said all direct employees and contractors are required to go through bear training, including a hands-on portion where trainees deploy bear spray. The mine also provides shotgun training, she said.

"We also ensure that when working in the field, employees are paired up or working with a group. We do not permit field employees to work alone," Shaw said.

As field work is resumed, Pogo Mine will use dedicated bear guards as a standard practice, she said.

Black bear kills mine worker, injures another in Interior Alaska

  Author: Jerzy Shedlock

An official for Pogo Mine in Interior Alaska said a contract employee died in a black bear mauling that happened several miles from the mine's main camp Monday.

Pogo is an underground gold mine in the Interior of Alaska. The mine produces gold 365 days a year. 

A second contract employee sustained non-life-threatening injuries and is being taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, said Pogo Mine external affairs manager Lorna Shaw.

The employees who were mauled by the bear worked for a contractor hired to take geological samples; they were working at an exploration site several miles from the main camp when the bear attacked, Shaw said.

The mine is about 38 miles northeast of Delta Junction.

"A mayday was called and in accordance with site emergency response procedures, a helicopter responded with a paramedic and a physician's assistant on board," Shaw said. The medical team responded at 10:40 a.m., she said.

All field workers were called back to camp. At the direction of wildlife troopers, the black bear was killed, Shaw said.

Megan Peters said Alaska Wildlife Troopers are responding to investigate.

An official with the U.S. Mine & Safety Administration said the agency is also on its way to the worksite. The safety officials will conduct an initial investigation to determine whether it falls within their legal jurisdiction. Pogo Mine runs year round, and workers live at a remote camp where they mine gold and process ore, according to the company's website.


Pogo Mine contractor is killed in second Alaska Bear attack in two days

Posted: Mon 3:57 PM, Jun 19, 2017

Two victims have been killed in Bear attacks in Alaska in the past two days.

On Sunday, 16-year-old Patrick Cooper of Anchorage was mauled to death while running at Bird Ridge in Anchorage.

On Monday, Alaska State Troopers also reported that a contracted employee of Pogo Mine had been killed following a Bear attack.
The fatal incident has been reported to the Mine Safety and Health Administration and to the Alaska State Troopers.
The mine is cooperating with the appropriate agencies to investigate.

Authorities say a black bear killed Patrick Cooper while he was competing in an Alaska race outside Anchorage on Sunday.

The teenager was a participant in the juniors division of the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb race between Anchorage and Girdwood.

The race director says the runner had apparently made it to the halfway point turnaround on Bird Ridge trail and was on his way down when he texted his mother that he was being chased by a bear.

Officials responded up the mountain to locate the boy, whose body was found about a mile up the path, at about 1,500 vertical feet.


DELTA JUNCTION, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska State Troopers are investigating a deadly bear attack at Pogo Mine.

On Monday, at around 10:40 a.m., employees at the mine contacted Fairbanks police to report two of their contract employees had been attacked by a black bear.

A short time later, they called back to report one employee was dead and the other had non-life-threatening injuries in the same incident.

Two Alaska Wildlife Troopers and an ADF&G employee from Fairbanks were transported to the exploration site to investigate the scene to transport the victim’s remains and to remove the bear.

The other injured employee was transported by ambulance to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment and was released the same day.

The name of the deceased is being withheld until the person is identified by the State Medical Examiner.

“Right now we have more questions than answers. Everyone on site is concerned for those involved,” said Chris Kennedy, general manager at Pogo Mine. “Our condolences have been shared with our contractor and our hearts go out to the individuals, their colleagues, and their families.”

The employees involved in the attack worked for a contractor hired to take geological samples, according to Lorna Shaw, a spokesperson for the Pogo Mine.

They worked at an exploration site about 5 miles away from the main camp.

Shaw says all field work was immediately shut down and all personnel working in the area were evacuated and brought back to the main camp as a safety precaution.

A team from the Mine Safety & Health Administration is currently on site investigating.

This is the second deadly bear mauling in two days.


Pogo is an underground mine with a vast network of more than 90 miles of underground roads winding to depths more than 1,000 feet below the surface. The quartz veins of the deposit yield an average of ½ troy ounce of gold per ton of rock, which makes Pogo a high-grade gold mine. Ore is drilled, blasted, loaded onto underground haul trucks and delivered to an underground ore bin. From there, the ore is transported along a 2,500-foot-long conveyor belt to the surface ore bin. The mill pulls ore from the surface ore bin for processing.

Pogo’s underground mining method requires mined-out areas to be backfilled with paste to help provide ground support while the adjacent ore panel is mined. Mill tailings mixed with cement (paste backfill) provide part of the necessary support.