Christopher Petronino had the scare of his life when a black bear grabbed him while he was trekking through a cave. The New Jersey Boy Scout Leader had set out with his group to hike trails that covered over 600 acres of wilderness.
Petronino was no stranger to the area, and indicated that he was familiar with that particular cave since the 1980’s. However, he had never witnessed bears using it as a den to hibernate before. At the time of the incident, the scout leader was showing three cadets from the group a cave at Split Rock Reservoir near Morris County, reports Fox News.
Approximately 25 miles west of New York, Petronino was starting to navigate a crevice leading into the cave when the bear took hold of his foot and pulled his body inside. Before the scout leader had a chance to fight back, the bear had bitten both his left and right shoulders and leg.
Using his rock hammer, Petronino was able to strike the bear in the head several times. Acting fast, he then pulled his sweatshirt over his head, curled into a fetal position and gave directions to the remaining scouts outside of the cave to leave and immediately get help.
According to NBC News, the scouts were able to call for assistance on their cellphones, but they couldn’t give the dispatcher the exact location of where they were located. Officials taking the call were able to track the coordinates of the scouts and deploy a helicopter to aid in the search.
As the scouts waited, Petronino was still inside the cave listening to the bear breath and huff. Approximately 80 minute later, Petronino was able to escape after instructing the scout group to leave food at the entrance of the cave in hopes of enticing the bear out of the den.
A dog that had been part of the scout party barked at the bear and sent it running up a local hillside in the community. Petronino was then able to emerge and call authorities to help aid in the search for the bear. Petronino was a regular to Splitrock for decades and indicated to the media that he never was witness to bear in the area. He also didn’t see any visible collars or ear tags on the bear.
The scoutmaster was transported to Morristown Medical Center after the incident via helicopter where he received treatment for scratches and bites to his shoulders and legs. His father told the media Monday morning that his son was in “bad shape” and would need to “undergo several hours of surgery.”
The mauling happened a day after New Jersey’s extended hunting season for bear. NJ.com reports that close to 500 bears have already been killed according to state records, and officials are looking to extend the hunt in hopes of thinning their ranks. Fox6Now also reports that DEP employees had set out traps in the vicinity of the bear attack in hopes of its capture. The cave where the initial incident with Petronino occurred has remained empty, but the traps have been set in hopes of its return.
Other encounters have included an incident in Ramapo Mountain State Forest where a bear had chased a group of hikers. Another hiker reported using pepper spray to ward off a bear who had repeatedly approached the man.