ANCHORAGE - A 14-year-old girl riding in a mountain bike race was severely injured when she was mauled by a bear.
The girl, whose name was not immediately released, suffered head, neck, torso and leg wounds early Sunday. She was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center for surgery and was in critical condition Sunday afternoon, police said.
"The local bear expert said it's probably a sow grizzly," said Cleo Hill, a spokeswoman for the Anchorage Fire Department. "One has been sighted in the area recently."
The attack occurred along a trail in a 24-hour race put on by the Arctic Bicycle Club in Bicentennial Park. Rescuers had to hike in 2.5 miles to reach the girl. The race was canceled after the attack.
The park on Anchorage's east side borders on Chugach State Park. Wild animals - from grizzly and black bears to moose, wolves and wolverines - frequent the area. A grizzly was an immediate suspect in the attack.
Rick Sinnott, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told the Anchorage Daily News that the bear could have been a grizzly sow with two cubs that charged two runners on a nearby trail two weeks ago.
About 60 riders were entered in the race - a circular route that followed groomed trails used by hikers, bikers and skiers. The race began at noon Saturday and was to conclude at noon Sunday.
The bear attacked the girl at about 1:30 a.m., during the darkest part of the morning.
"It's not light enough to read but it's light enough to see your way," Hill said of the conditions one week after summer solstice. Riders could see rocks, trees and the trail but may have been using headlamps or a bike headlight, Hill said.
The girl had just reached a trail that runs along the south fork of a salmon stream, Campbell Creek, when she was attacked. Emergency responders were amazed she was able to retrieve her cell phone from her pocket, Hill said.
The girl called 911 and police dispatchers heard someone with extreme difficulty breathing. The girl whispered one word - "bear" - and the line went dead, Hill said.
Following their procedures when an emergency call is cut off, dispatchers called the number back. Another rider heard the phone ringing, stopped to investigate and spotted the teen off the trail.
"That rider was able to pick up the phone and talk with the police department," Hill said.
One more rider came onto the scene and stayed until emergency personnel arrived. That took courage in the darkened forest, knowing a bear had attacked and could again, Hill said.
"It had to be extremely unnerving, if not terrifying," Hill said.
Police officers with shotguns accompanied medics to the girl.
Sinnott, the biologist, went to the scene and posted warning signs. He said the girl was fortunate to be wearing a bike helmet, because the bear bit her head.
Police Lt. Paul Honeman said the family had requested no more information be issued on the girl's condition.
"Their daughter is in a battle for her life," he said.