BILLINGS, Mont. — Newly released recordings of 911 calls from hikers who came upon a fatal bear mauling in Yellowstone National Park reveal a harrowing scene in which the hikers heard a bear's roar and a couple screaming before the man went silent and the woman continued to yell for help.
Authorities released the recordings Tuesday along with a report from investigators that concluded the couple's screaming and running possibly triggered the mauling of 57-year-old Brian Matayoshi.
"It sounded like they were trying to scare the bear," an unidentified male hiker told the 911 dispatcher. "I heard a man's voice making loud, like, um, like animal noises. It sounded like he was trying to scare the bear and I heard a woman screaming. It sounded like she was scared."
A short time later, another caller who identified himself as a trauma surgeon called and said he was just a few hundred yards from the scene.
"Did you hear what they were saying? Did they say they were attacked or just yelling for help?" the dispatcher asked.
"No. They were just yelling for help. And all I can hear is the lady's voice now. There was a man as well, so I'm worried that the man may be injured," the caller said.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, park officials said the Matayoshis responded correctly when they encountered the bear along the park's popular Wapiti Lake Trailhead. But following a two-month investigation, bear researchers and wildlife agents concluded the couple's harried, 173-yard retreat after they encountered the bear may have played a role.
"What possibly began as an attempt by the bear to assess the Matayoshis' activities became a sustained pursuit of them as they fled running and yelling on the trail," the investigation team report said.
The couple was not carrying bear spray – mace-like canisters of pressurized pepper spray that park officials advise hikers to carry for self-defense.
The attack took place about 1 1/2 miles from the park's popular Wapiti Lake picnic ground, where the Matayoshis had set out for a hike at about 8:30 a.m. after arriving in the park a day earlier, according to the investigators' report.
The couple first spied the mother grizzly with her two cubs just after 10 a.m., from a vantage point along the trail. It was the Matayoshis fourth visit to the park, but the first in which they had seen any bears.
As the bears were digging and grazing in an open meadow, the couple stopped and took pictures from a distance of several hundred yards, then hiked on after deciding the animals were not near the trail.
After another half mile, the couple turned back because they were annoyed by mosquitoes, and soon after saw a large bear off the trail about 100 yards away. They turned and started heading for a patch of nearby trees when Marylyn Matayoshi "saw the bear's head pop up."
"She started coming at us and Brian said `Run.' We were running down the trail," Marylyn Matayoshi told investigators. She heard her husband yell and turned to see the sow "hit him," with the cubs trailing behind their mother and growling.
After killing the husband, the bear tugged at Marylyn Matayoshi's backpack, then released her and fled. "She walked over to her husband and attempted to use a tourniquet on Brian's leg and heard a long breath escape from Brian," the report said.
Marylyn Matayoshi tried to call 911 for help – her cellphone log showed she tried 21 times – but never got through. She started back down the trail several times, but kept turning back out of fear that she would encounter the bears again.
Eventually she walked to the edge of the meadow where the bear charged from and was found by rangers who had been alerted to the attack by other hikers.
Park authorities later decided to let the bear remain free because it had no prior run-ins with humans and was reacting as might be expected to a surprise encounter.
Two other people have been killed by grizzlies in the Northern Rockies this year. That includes a second attack in Yellowstone earlier this month that killed a Michigan man, and a Nevada hunter killed Friday by a wounded bear along the Idaho-Montana border.
The Yellowstone bear that killed the Michigan man remains at large. The bear in Friday's attack was killed by the hunter's companions.