Officials in Alaska are searching for a brown bear that, they say, killed a missing hiker then mauled a member of the man’s search party.
Michael Soltis, 44, went missing during a hike on Monday, and was found dead on Wednesday of a bear attack in Eagle River, the Anchorage Police Department said in a press release. Around that time, a brown bear attacked a member of the search party that had been looking for the man.
This, officials said, led police to finding Soltis.
“It appears the brown bear was protecting the body when it attacked a member of the search party,” police said in the statement. “Police are still asking people to avoid the area due to the aggressive bear.”
The searcher managed to escape and was taken to a hospital with serious injuries to his leg, police said. He is expected to survive. Authorities have blocked off a portion of the wooded area and put up “Danger!” signs.
Soltis’ cousin Wendi Yohman told the Anchorage Daily News that she and two other volunteer searchers were looking for Soltis on a trail in the woods when she heard a noise and saw the bear.
“It was so fast,” she said, noting that another searcher put himself between her and the bear and was mauled. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
Now, officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are searching for the bear and intend to kill the animal.
“We are working to find the bear, we’ve been working pretty much since yesterday morning,” department spokesman Ken Marsh tells PEOPLE. “The only person to see the bear was the person who witnessed the attack, and the man who was attacked. That sighting and evidence suggests it was a brown bear.”
Marsh says officials do not know how big the bear is. However, brown bears can reach a height of at least six feet and weigh over 1,000 lbs., PBS reported. By Thursday morning, the bear had not been located.
“The bear’s location is unknown at this time,” police said in a statement on Wednesday. “Police are asking people to avoid the area and for the searchers to leave the area as well.”