Boy Scout leader pulled in cave by bear, uses hammer to save life

ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — A Boy Scout leader was pulled into a cave by a bear in northern New Jersey but beat the animal away with a rock hammer while the three Scouts with him called for help, authorities said.

Christopher Petronino, 50, and the Scouts were hiking at Split Rock Reservoir on Sunday afternoon when he stopped to show the boys a cave, NJ.com reported. He dipped into a small crevasse leading to it, and the bear grabbed him by the foot and yanked him inside. It began biting his legs and shoulders and Petronino fought it off, NJ.com reported.

“Petronino struck the bear twice in the head with a rock hammer. He then pulled his sweatshirt over his head and curled into the fetal position,” Bob Considine, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said in a statement. “He yelled to the Scouts, who were outside the cave, to leave and go get help.”

The boys used a cellphone to call authorities, who told them to place any food they had outside the cave to lure the bear away from Petronino. When it emerged, a dog that had come along with the group began barking and the bear ran up a nearby hillside.

Considine said the Scout leader spent about 80 minutes inside the cave before escaping. He was airlifted to Morristown Medical Center and treated for his wounds. The Scouts, from a Boonton-based troop, were released to their parents.

Petronino told authorities he’d visited the cave regularly for decades and had never seen a bear.

Considine said state wildlife officials believe the bear was protecting its hibernation location. Initially, they placed traps around the area where the attack occurred and hoped to capture the bruin. Later, they told NJ.com that the warmer weather was confusing the bears and they are not deep into hibernation. They believe the bear is not a threat and won’t try to capture it.

Hunters in New Jersey killed 510 bears during the state’s extended black bear hunt, which ended Saturday. Fifty-eight were harvested in Morris County, where Split Rock Reservoir is located.

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