Since the time he was a much younger man, Christopher Petronino has been exploring a cave at Split Rock Reservoir in Rockaway Township, NJ. On Sunday, the 50-year-old Boy Scout troop leader decided to show the cave he first entered some three decades ago to his son and the two other scouts he was hiking with. He began to enter feet-first through the crevasse-type entrance—when a black bear seized his foot. The New York Times reports the animal pulled Petronino into the cave and began biting him. That was just the start of the ordeal. NJ.com reports that Petronino twice struck the bear in the head with a rock hammer then told the boys to call 911. He assumed a fetal position with his back to the bear and put a sweatshirt over his head, reports NBC New York.
The boys did call, but were unable to provide their location to the 911 operator; officials began to try to track their coordinates and dispatched a helicopter. Petronino next told the boys to place the food they were carrying just outside the cave. That was enough to get the bear to emerge, and a dog that was with the group then scared the bear off. All told, Petronino spent "a substantial amount of time" with the "huffing" bear in the cave, before emerging and himself calling 911. Help arrived 80 minutes later, and he was airlifted out, says a rep for the state's Department of Environmental Protection. Petronino suffered bites to his scalp and legs; the boys were unharmed. Officials are now trying to trap the bear, which they believe "was protecting its hibernation location ... they do not, at this point, consider the bear to be a Category I bear," meaning one that must be euthanized. (Read more black bear stories.)