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Local law enforcement officers assisted with the rescue of a 68-year-old backpacker on Monday after he was mauled by a grizzly bear near Franc’s Peak outside Meeteetse, Wyoming. The hiker, who was visiting the area from New York, sent out a distress signal after the attack that was relayed to the local sheriff’s office. 

The Park County Sheriff’s Department responded to the distress call around 3 pm on Monday, and contacted Park County Search and Rescue to initiate a helicopter rescue. The rescue team arrived on the scene, where they determined that the backpacker had been mauled and severely injured during the attack. The Search and Rescue crew transported the man by helicopter to a hospital in Billings, Montana, where he is currently being treated for his injuries. 

Officials have not released the backpacker’s name, or any information regarding his current condition. But an initial investigation by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department indicates that the attack resulted from a surprise encounter with the bear.

“The man, an experienced out-of-state recreationist, was hiking at high elevation when he encountered the bear at close range. The encounter happened too suddenly for him to deploy the bear spray he was carrying,” WGFD stated in a press release

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, which monitors all downed aircraft signals throughout the country and reports them to local law enforcement, was the first to receive the hiker’s distress signal. Officials initially believed the signal was coming from a downed aircraft, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Office, but the agency quickly realized the distress call was coming from a personal locator beacon. 

The mix-up was due to the type of personal locator the man was carrying, which transmits a location using radio frequency and is more commonly used in maritime and aviation circles. By comparison, most modern PLB’s carried by outdoorsmen and women utilize satellites to triangulate a person’s location within a few feet. 

“Thankfully the AFRCC was diligent in their efforts to identify this signal even after it was determined to not be aircraft related,” the Sheriff’s Office wrote in a Facebook post

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This incident is the first known bear attack to occur in Wyoming so far this year. Outdoor Life recently looked into trends regarding grizzly attacks in the region, and found that even though grizzly populations are increasing within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, attacks like these are still uncommon. 

Based on current information, WGFD does not plan on relocating or euthanizing the bear. The agency says it will continue to monitor bear activity in the area as its investigation into the attack moves forward.