A New Jersey Boy Scout leader who was mauled by a black bear is expected to survive thanks to the help of three quick-thinking scouts, according to CNN affiliate WCBS.
Police have released recordings of the 911 calls three scouts made after their scout leader was dragged into a cave by a bear on December 20.
Scout leader Christopher Petronino, 50, and the three scouts were hiking near Rockaway Township, New Jersey, when the scout leader veered off the trail to show the boys a nearby cave.
It’s possible that Petronino disturbed a hibernating bear when he lowered himself into a rock crevice, the Rockaway Township Police Department said.
The encounter happened quickly, according to New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Chanda.
As the bear attacked Petronino, biting his head, legs and arms, the scout leader called out to the scouts for help. The three scouts, ages 12 and 13, called 911 and tried to remain calm as they detailed the horrifying scene.
One of the scouts told dispatchers that a bear had grabbed Petronino’s leg and was on top of their scout leader.
The scouts stayed on the phone with dispatchers as rescue crews tried to pinpoint their location. Two of the boys started a fire to create a smoke signal for authorities, and another scout left sandwiches in the cave, hoping to draw out the bear.
As rescue efforts unfolded, one of the boys is heard in the recordings making a touching comment. “Guys, if we don’t make it out of this alive, I love you guys,” he said.
Eventually, Petronino was able to escape the bear’s grasp by hitting the animal on the nose with a rock hammer. The scout leader then pulled his coat over his head and curled up into the fetal position and pretended to be dead.
Several hours later, rescue crews were able to track down the scouts and Petronino by using the GPS coordinates of one of the scout’s cell phones, officials said.
Petronino was bitten on his shoulders, legs and scalp, but his wounds were not life threatening and he has been released from the hospital soon after the attack, Chanda said. The scouts were also not harmed during the bear attack.
New Jersey’s black bear population has seen rapid growth, according to New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s website. The mammal has been sighted in all 21 of the state’s counties.
In the past few months, hikers have had several bear encounters, according to WCBS.