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NJ Scoutmaster Recovering From Bear Attack In Morris County

ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A New Jersey Boy Scout leader is recovering after being dragged into a cave by a bear.

Scout leader Christopher Petronino, 50, was with three young Scouts when the bear attacked Sunday at Split Rock Reservoir in Rockaway Township in Morris County.

"He had his good intentions to take them out there and show them some things he knew when he was a kid that were fun and adventurous for him," family friend Ann Shannon told CBS2's Ilana Gold.

As CBS2's Christine Sloan reported, authorities said Petronino was showing the Scouts a bear cave when a black bear suddenly grabbed his foot and pulled him inside and then started biting him across his body.

Petronino told authorities he first tried hitting the bear with a rock hammer. When that didn't work he pulled his coat over his head curled into the fetal position. He said the bear sat on him for over an hour, CBS2's Brian Webb reported.

Emergency radio calls went out shortly after.

"We have a gentleman in the cave with the bear -- he has been injured by the bear," a dispatcher says. "He is bleeding from his neck, his arm and his head."

Petronino ultimately played dead, authorities told WCBS 880's Kelly Waldron.

The three Scouts with him, ages 10 to 12, stayed calm and dialed 911 immediately, but the boys couldn't pinpoint their specific location while on the phone with dispatchers.

That's when they put their skills to use, hoping to get someone's attention

"They have also started a fire, possibly for a smoke signal," said the dispatcher.

The Scouts, ages 12 and 13, even put food by the cave to try to lure the bear out, but that didn't work. The bear stayed in the cave with Petronino for a substantial amount of time before it eventually walked out and ran off.

Emergency crews tracked down the group an hour and 20 minutes after the initial 911 call and had some challenges along the way.

"PD is requesting more manpower at the location with the victim. Apparently they're up on like a rock ledge, they're gonna need assistance getting him down," the dispatcher said.

Paramedics finally made the rescue and flew Petronino to Morristown Medical Center. He suffered severe lacerations on his head, shoulders and legs, Waldron reported.

"I was very upset and concerned for both him and the boys," said Shannon, who stopped by Petronino's Boonton home Monday. "Thank goodness, especially this time of year. You don't want anything bad to happen."

Black bears are common in the area. People who live nearby say they see them frequently, but tell CBS2 they've never seen one get aggressive with a human.

"They don't bother us; we don't bother them," resident Dave Oakes said.

"I've been a police officer for 29 years and this is the first time I've ever heard of something similar to that," Rockaway Township Chief Martin McPharland, said.

Officials said they are not looking to capture the bear since he was defending an area where he planned to stay for the winter.

Petronino's wife released a statement on Monday, thanking the scouts that helped save her husband.

"I especially want to commend the three boys who truly saved my husband's life because of their quick thinking and brave actions," she said in the statement. "At this time, we request privacy as Chris begins his journey to recovery."

The boys used their scout training to get help, even trying to lure the bear out with food. A dog with the boys eventually chased the bear away.

"He had good intentions to take them out and show them something that he knew when he was a boy, that was fun and adventurous for them," Ann Shannon said.

Going into a cave is something wildlife officials discourage, they said it's a place with all kinds of animals and where bears may feel cornered.

They said if you ever come face to face with a bear, give it an escape route, but if you're attacked fight back.

"We instruct to punch at the nose, which is probably the most sensitive area of a black bear. Kick and fight, scream, make as much noise as you can," an official explained.

The attack comes less than 24 hours after the end of New Jersey's annual state-mandated bear hunt, which was extended an additional four days this year.

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