Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bear vs. plane

There's been a story and some photographs circulating on the Internet for some time about a bear attack on a light aircraft in Alaska. I hesitated to blog about it, because there was no verification of the story - until now. The Alaska Dispatch reports:

When bush pilot Luke Miller, 28, made an overnight stop at a friend's hunting lodge in Southwest Alaska earlier this year, he had no way to know that a large and very dedicated menace would, under cover of night, chew and claw his plane to shreds.

. . .

Contrary to some reports, it wasn't a fishy aroma that lured the bear in. The plane wasn't full of fish, nor had it just been used to haul fish. The pilot didn't radio for help -- he used a cell phone -- and the incident isn't a hoax dating back nine years; it happened around Sept. 26 and 27, 2009.

And yes, duct tape and plastic wrap saved the day.

LaRose had already had a few run-ins with the brown bruin, which discovered it could use the new meat shed at LaRose's lodge like a McDonald's drive-through. One night, after breaking out a window, the bear grabbed a hindquarter of freshly-butchered moose, feasting on 60 to 70 pounds of it as it dangled through the window, still hanging from the rafters.

LaRose boarded up the window, and after returning from a guided silver salmon trip, butchered the remaining moose meat, put it in the freezer and cleaned and bleached the space to eliminate all traces of the meat.

The next night, the bear pushed out a screen. Two nights later he returned again, got the door open and knocked over a bucket of broken glass collected after the first break-in.

Miller stopped in a day or two later on his way to a piloting job for another guide. A storm was moving through with heavy rain and 25 to 30 mile per hour winds, and LaRose's lodge offered a comfortable place for a night of rest. Offered a choice to tie down the plane out in the open, or about 60 feet from the shed, where it would be better sheltered, he chose the area by the shed.

"I figured the bear situation was done," La Rose said. "The meat had been gone for three or four days and I figured it got the message."

Early the next morning after a night of howling winds, in the dark before sunrise, a client reported another meat shed break-in to LaRose, who took a walk to check things out and discovered the bear had once again pulled out a window, but otherwise had done no damage.

No damage, that is, until LaRose remembered Miller's plane.

"My headlamp hit Luke's plane and it was literally destroyed," he said. "My heart sank. It was just an unbelievable sight."

LaRose was faced with the unhappy task of waking Miller up to tell him the bear had destroyed the 1958 Piper Cub's wheels by clawing at the rubber, busted out the windows on the plane's left side, and shredded fabric from rear windows to tail.

"He basically ravaged the whole plane," LaRose said, adding that, in his 38 years as a pilot in Alaska, he has never seen anything like it.

. . .

After a few days of meticulous fix-it work, the plane was airworthy enough to fly back to Anchorage. Miller fitted the windows with plywood and Plexiglas, replaced the tires and the horizontal stabilizer (the bear either leaned on it or sat on it), and, according to Miller's dad, fashioned a makeshift fabric skin out of 25 rolls of duct tape and some industrial-strength plastic wrap.

As for the bear, it hasn't been seen since. It may have been "whacked" during bear hunting season in October, or it may be playing it smart. After all, bears know when it's time "to get the hell out of Dodge," according to the LaRose.

Then again, it may be off enjoying a satisfied rest.

"He's off digesting some fabric right now. He just disappeared into the night. He doesn't know how famous he is," the pilot's father, Mark Miller, said.

There's more at the link.

About the pictures: the report above notes that 'the pilot' (presumably of the plane in question - more than one pilot is quoted) claims they're copyrighted. However, they're all over the internet (I've found them in at least a dozen locations), and none of the images I've seen has any kind of copyright notation. Furthermore, as far as I'm aware there has been no effort made to assert copyright and have the images taken down from the sites that have published them. I've therefore felt free to do likewise here. If anyone can establish a firm, documented and verifiable claim to copyright, I'll either take them down, or post an acknowledgment, as the copyright holder chooses.



Anonymous said...

Interesting job on the "fabric" repair. Doing a proper job of it is an interesting mix of art and science, and a pricey one to have done, at that.


Anonymous said...

Looks like there's one Alaskan brown bear that's just begging for a .300 Magnum ass-whippin'

Lagged2Death said...

Great, informative post, and love the photos.

I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that photographs (along with other creative works and intellectual property) are, technically speaking, copyrighted automatically, even if they're not registered or marked as such. The registration and marking is intended to prevent misuse and to simplify legal proceedings; they aren't required.