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Polar Bear Breaks Into Alaska Radar Station, Mauls Mechanic

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An eight-foot polar bear crashed through a window into a dormitory at a remote Air Force radar station, mauling a 55-year-old mechanic before one of his terrified co-workers shot and killed the animal, authorities said Wednesday.

The mechanic, Donald Chaffin, was in critical condition at Anchorage hospital with a collapsed lung and injuries to his face, neck and chest.

Crew members at the Oliktok Point radar site northwest of Prudhoe Bay on the Beaufort Sea told authorities that they had finished dinner Tuesday night when a bear pawed at a window of the dormitory’s dining area. They tried to scare the animal off by banging the window with a rolled-up magazine. The bear disappeared for a moment, but came back and broke through the window.

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“The bear climbed through the window and chased (Chaffin) into the recreation room, where it pushed him to the floor and began biting his head,” said Larry Hinkin, a police officer for the North Slope Borough. Another worker shot the animal with a shotgun, and the animal walked into the dorm’s library and died, he said.

Chaffin was taken to a nearby oil field clinic and transported by helicopter to the hospital in Anchorage, 500 miles away.

Several polar bears had been seen recently in the area, biologists said. They were probably attracted by meat and fat from bowhead whales being stored by hunters from a nearby Inupiat village.

Alaska has between 3,500 and 5,000 polar bears, which inhabit coastal areas and roam the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean. They are protected by federal law.

Scott Schliebe, a federal biologist who specializes in polar bears, said the animal shot this week was average-sized. A necropsy will be performed to look for clues into why it attacked, he said. The bear could have just been curious or hungry, he said.

“Polar bears do spend a good part of their lives breaking through ice getting at seals or other prey,” he said. “Breaking through a window wouldn’t necessarily be real unusual behavior.”

Polar bear attacks in Alaska are rare, but not unheard of. Three years ago, a polar bear killed a man as he walked through the Inupiat village of Point Lay. The bear was later determined to be underweight.

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