A black bear attacked and killed a female oil sands worker in northern Alberta on Wednesday afternoon. The 36-year-old woman, identified as Lorna Weafer, was working for Suncor Energy at the company’s base plant bout 25 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
Mike Ewald, an investigator with Alberta Fish and Wildlife, told CBC she was on her way back to work from a bathroom break when the bear attacked, though none of her half-dozen or so co-workers saw where the bear came from. Ewald said witnesses tried to scare the bear off using fire extinguishers, a water cannon and air horn: “All the general things that should scare it off.” But the animal kept coming back, he said, adding the attack lasted an hour.
“This bear was very determined,” he told CBC.
Scott Doherty, a spokesman for the union Unifor, told The Canadian Press that the bear dragged her off. The union does not believe the workers were carrying bear spray, he added.
“We are shocked by this very unusual incident and there are no words to express the tragedy of this situation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to family, friends and co-workers,” Mark Little, Suncor executive vice president, Upstream, said in a statement. “All of us need to focus on personal safety and I would urge everyone to be extremely vigilant in dealing with wildlife.”
Wood Buffalo RCMP was called shortly after 2 p.m. Alberta Environment an Sustainable Resource Development’s fish and wildlife division as well as EMS also responded to the call. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene.
“The male bear, still in the area, was shot and killed by RCMP members,” Corporal George Cameron said in a statement.
Weafer has roots in Ireland, and Irish actor, Alan O’Neill, who appears on Sons of Anarchy, turned to Twitter to express his shock: “Heartbreaking & devastating news for all my family at the very tragic passing of my beautiful vivacious cousin in Canada. #RIPLornaWeafer xx”
Suncor is “working with the appropriate authorities and will complete a full investigation,” the company added. The province’s wildlife department as well as Occupational Health and Safety are also investigating.
“Although occurrences like this are rare, everyone has to be aware of the dangers involved when any wild animal is present whether in the bush or populated areas,” Cpl. Cameron added.
Bears are common in the area. In 2012, local media reported that black bears were being drawn to oil sands camps by food and garbage and the animals had also been trolling through residential areas. Fish and Wildlife conservation officers killed 145 bears due to clashes with industry and local residents.
While this attack is being characterized as rare and unusual, it’s not something Hollywood hasn’t contemplated. The Grey starring Liam Neeson depicts oil workers at war with wolves.
Photos Yukon government, Facebook