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Missing Palmer hiker found alive after reportedly being charged by bears on Pioneer Ridge Trail


A Palmer woman who went missing after reportedly being charged by bears on the Pioneer Ridge Trail near Butte was found injured but alive Wednesday after deteriorating weather had ended a second day of search efforts.

Around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, a search and rescue volunteer driving on Knik River Road spotted the hiker — identified as 55-year-old Fina Kiefer — walking out of the woods about a mile from the trailhead, Alaska State Troopers said in an online report.

She was taken to the hospital for evaluation of her injuries, according to troopers. Troopers in the Matanuska- Susitna Borough were notified just before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday that a solo hiker on the trail needed help. She had contacted her husband for help, saying that multiple bears charged her and she deployed bear spray, troopers said.

Kiefer stopped responding to calls and texts shortly after that, kicking off an aerial and ground search involving troopers, the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, the Alaska Air National Guard, MAT+SAR, Anchorage Nordic Ski Patrol and Solstice Search and Rescue Dogs.

On Tuesday, the first full day of the search, volunteers continued ground searches until about 10:30 p.m. and the Guard searched the area by air throughout the night, according to troopers.

The search continued by ground and air Wednesday with teams combing the area — on and off trail — for any sign of Kiefer. At least 18 people divided into multiple teams had been searching for her, said Bill Laxson, a senior member of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and part of the Alaska Incident Management Team for search and rescue.

“There are folks that are searchers starting up at the ridgeline and working their way down and they also have searchers on the ground at the bottom working their way up,” troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said earlier Wednesday. “So they’re kind of hitting it from both ends.”

Heavy rain Wednesday afternoon placed an added burden on search and rescue teams, and the poor weather ultimately put an end to the day’s search with no evidence of the missing hiker.

About an hour after the halt to Wednesday’s search effort was announced, an injured Kiefer was spotted emerging from the woods, according to troopers.

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