The bear-mauling deaths of Californians Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard -- widely believed to have happened in the dark of night along the Katmai coast in October -- actually appear to have occurred at midday, according to a new report from the National Park Service.
The report, released Dec. 29, 2003, by a technical board of investigation for Katmai National Park, says the attack began at 1:58 p.m. Oct. 5. The time is based on a date stamp found in a digital video camera the couple turned on just before the attack.
The digital video contains the sounds of the attack but no pictures.
Missy Epping, acting chief ranger for Katmai, said she learned of the date stamp from Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Larry Van Daele of Kodiak. Van Daele headed a state investigation into what might have caused the bear attack.
The deaths of Treadwell and Huguenard, however, were investigated by Alaska State Troopers, who have yet to issue a report. Troopers originally said Treadwell's camera had no date stamp, but Van Daele said a Kodiak trooper in late December told him there was a time record.
An afternoon attack changes the thinking about what might have happened at Kaflia Bay, according to bear experts. It was previously assumed the couple were surprised by a grizzly in camp at night, that Treadwell left their tent to confront that bear and that the situation deteriorated.
"I don't know what to say now,'' said John Schoen, a bear authority with the Audubon Society in Alaska. "Were they in their tent asleep, taking a nap or something? Did they try to lure the bear in? Who knows?''
"I guess it makes it in my mind probably less likely that it was some sort of misunderstanding and more likely he provoked the bear,'' said Bruce Bartley of Fish and Game.
Treadwell and Huguenard are believed to have been killed by a 1,000-pound adult male grizzly. Van Daele removed Treadwell's remains from the stomach of such a bear. Park rangers shot and killed the animal after it charged them when they went to investigate the camp where a bush pilot reported seeing Huguenard's remains buried in a bear's food cache.
Troopers who arrived on the scene later found the pictureless videotape with the sounds of the attack and journals kept by the couple. Troopers have refused to discuss any of those documents.
Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said Monday that troopers are still under orders not to talk about the case. He wouldn't confirm whether the new information about the time stamp came from a troopers investigation or from Grizzly People, a Malibu, Calif.-based organization founded to finance Treadwell's forays among the bears in Alaska.
Shortly after the deaths of Treadwell and Huguenard, an attorney for Grizzly People threatened to sue the state if it released any information about the attack. Troopers promptly shipped all documents and tapes south to Grizzly People.
A federal official involved in the investigation told the Daily News that law enforcement officials discussed concerns that if they held the tapes and documents, the items could be subject to state or federal public records laws. There were particular worries, the official said, that the tape might be obtained and broadcast by a tabloid television show. The troopers have repeatedly refused to talk about the case.
The Daily News submitted a public records request to troopers on Oct. 7. On Oct. 29, troopers Director Col. Julie Grimes responded: "This department is not in possession of a copy of the tape. As I'm sure you know, the tape was returned to the representative of the estate of the owner, along with other property found at the location.''
Katmai's Epping said even the Park Service found state troopers uncooperative. The technical board's report notes that "because the state troopers' investigation was not completed when the board convened, the board relied on the testimony of Larry Van Daele regarding the contents of the videotape recovered from the incident site that recorded some of what transpired.''
The board did not have a copy of the tape for review, nor did it have access to the journals. Van Daele said he got a brief look at the journals but did not get the chance to examine them to see whether they provided any insight into what might have happened.
In a telephone interview, Van Daele added that he is sticking with his original conclusion: that Treadwell and Huguenard died because of the poor choice of a campsite on a bear throughway and the chance encounter there with a bear that had a bad attitude.
But he admitted that the latest information does add to the mystery, particularly given that it now appears Treadwell told Huguenard to turn on the camera. It was originally thought that he only wanted to record the sounds of a nighttime encounter, but the fact that it was a daytime encounter challenges that premise.
"Why the heck would they turn it on without taking the lens camp off?'' Van Daele asked. "I've played this over in my mind so many times, and I can't figure that part out.''
(Anchorage Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)