Polar Bear Attacks Military Helicopter in Canada: 'First Time Anybody Has Encountered This'

A "curious" polar bear caused damaged to a military helicopter, the Royal Canadian Air Force said on Wednesday.

The CH-149 Cormorant chopper—a helicopter used for search-and-rescue operations in Canada—was parked at a remote airfield in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, located in the east of the country, when the incident occurred on September 16.

The search-and-rescue team ended up at the Saglek airfield after poor weather in the area meant they could not land at their preferred destination.

"The crew had to park the aircraft down below, not up at elevation like they wanted to," Lt.-Col. Brent Vaino, the squadron commander of the search-and-rescue team, told CBC News. "Because of that, it's an area with a body of water on either side and polar bears do occasionally transit on either side of them, and in this case that's what happened."

In a series of tweets, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RACF) described the polar bear's encounter with the helicopter.

"Sometime overnight, a curious polar bear came by to investigate the helicopter, causing some superficial damage as it pushed on a side door, popped out an emergency exit window and removed a small cover panel on the nose," the RACF said.

"The polar bear did not get inside the helicopter and there were no crew members in the vicinity at the time. After an inspection, repairs were completed and the crew resumed flights on their planned two-week mountain flying search and rescue exercise."

Polar bears are found in coastal Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Norway and Russia, split up into 19 distinct sub-populations, figures from the World Wide Fund for Nature show.

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On September 16, a CH-149 Cormorant crew with 413 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron at 14 Wing Greenwood parked its helicopter at the Saglek, Newfoundland and Labrador, airfield after poor weather prevented them from landing at their preferred location. pic.twitter.com/vYC5V1vE11

— Royal Canadian Air Force (@RCAF_ARC) September 30, 2020

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) say the estimated global population is between 22,000-31,000, with 60-80 percent of these bears found in Canada.

Internationally, polar bears are listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN's Red List of Red List of Threatened Species, meaning the global population is decreasing. They are threatened by climate change, with one recent study suggesting they could all but be wiped out by the year 2100.

Vaino told CBC that the polar bear who damaged the helicopter was probably just curious and not looking for food.

"Probably like most folks, I chuckled at bit," Vaino said, referring to the moment he heard about the incident. "I think it's fair to say this is first time anybody has encountered this—in this Wing, anyhow."

polar bear, Canada
A polar bear walks on the frozen tundra on the edge of Hudson Bay in November, 2007 outside Churchill, Mantioba, Canada. On September 16, a polar bear damaged a Canadian Air Force military helicopter in Newfoundland and Labrador. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images