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'It cut through me at the sight of the bear'

"Ninavarden", in memory of the 22 year old student being killed i 1995. FOTO: Birger Amundsen

Speaking out about polar bears tragedy at Platåberget:

'It cut through me at the sight of the bear'

On March 30, 1995, Nina Jeanette Olaussen was killed by a polar bear Platåberget near Longyearbyen . The only witness to the incident says in a new book for the first time what happened.

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Publisert:

In the time after the tragedy in 1995 that spared Hilde (she would not provide her last name), she never give an interview about the incident. Two years later she made an exception for author Birger Amundsen to allow its contribution to demystify the event. The story is published next week in the book "Uten Nåde" ("Without Mercy"). The following is an excerpt:

"It was Nina who discovered the bear. I had more than enough with following Nina's rapid pace over the plateau. 'Look there is a reindeer,' said Nina. I do not know if that was what she thought she saw or she hoped so. I turned my face to the left and a good distance away I saw a round, furry little bear. Nina had seemed positive when she said it, so the sight of the bear came unexpectedly for me. It cut through me like a knife at the sight of the bear. The first thing I thought of was the possible ways out. It was too far to turn around and too long to follow the snowmobile tracks down to Sverdrupbyen. But to the left in front of us the mountainside turned inward toward us; maybe we could get down there. But we still had to manage to scare the bear if it came closer. We had to cross the bear to come down to the city.

I told Nina that it's not a reindeer, but a bear (should have reassured her instead). 'We can go fast without running," I said. 'We must do it! If it gets close we need to scare it away.' Inside me I thought that we were both too young to die. There was too much to be done, and so many dreams and far too many to take farewell with."

The bear was between the girls and the edge of the plateau to Longyearbyen. Hilde was not able to remember how long they had gone over the plateau when they spotted the bear. It was obvious that the sour weather had caught ​​them a long way out. Hilde had more than enough with following Nina's fast speed.

According to Hilde, Nina was the fittest of the two. She was an aerobics instructor and trained several hours a day.

Hilde says that they did not talk much, that it was best to keep quiet:

"I said we have to try to scare it, that we must try to manage it. I thought terribly much, but did not say much."

In the letter (an elaborate letter Hilde sent to the author Amundsen after their first meeting - editor) she wrote: "We continued even faster, but we did not run. The polar bear was clearly starting to get interested. He first went parallel with us far away. After that he approached, but he obviously had plenty of time. Far away he had his head held high, but the closer he got the more he sank his head. He never ran right at us, giving us an ever-so-little hope, maybe we could get him scared away if he was too intrusive. But his curiosity was too great. He came towards us. Then I realized that he would not let us escape. Since I nearest the bear, and was also the oldest, I should pay with my life. I said to Nina that she must greet home, that there wasn't time for a longer farewell speech. Nina shouted 'No, no, you're not allowed.' I think Nina hoped for another way out other then our own forces. I think she looked frantically for people who could emerge, by snowmobile or otherwise, that could save us.

The fear had gripped me since I saw the polar bear. But when it was about two meters away from me I got unknown powers over the fear. I took a step toward the bear, raised my arms, and made me as big and scary as possible while I yelled as I have never done before. The polar bear then had its head down to the ground. I saw it in the eyes it could tell that we were dangerous."

"I was really angry, therefore, and took a step toward it. He took a step back when I roared. And when he didn't go then, I thought that the only way was to escape, but it was probably the stupidest thing you could do. I do not know if it would have had disappeared if we had been standing completely still, or if he would have attacked anyway."

I do not remember in detail what happened then. Was the bear standing or did the bear go away towards Nina? In any case, we started to run. That was a mistake. You do not run from a bear. We lost control of the bear.

When I turned around to see what happened to Nina I saw the polar bear for the first time on two with a grip on Nina's jacket. On two, the bear was higher than Nina. Nina shouted for help. 'Pull off your coat,' I cried. 'I must get help.' It hit her in the stomach down in the snow. So I ran the last few meters towards the mountain.

I did not know where it would end downhill on the mountainside, so I closed my eyes and jumped off while I thought about if Nina is killed that I hoped I would die in the fall. But when the speed slowed I realized that I was going to survive. The first bit went fast, heeding the snow and rock. The bottom portion was heavy, I might have been snarled then. It seemed like lump of lead that moved me at snail's pace forward. It was hard and long. On the other side, I saw skiers. I hoped they would come meet me, so I waved her arms. But it all took too long."


Hilde fell, glided and slid for the first hundred meters. She tried to slide further down, but had to give up because of rocks sticking up. The place she jumped from is like a V-shaped inroad into the mountainside and the only place where it is possible to get one's self down without being seriously crushed. She came down Longyeardalen to within a few hundred meters of Sverdrupbyen, where the distance to Nybyen is more than 300 meters. Hilde could not attract the skiers' attention as she trotted across the valley. Arriving at the barracks in Nybyen, she met people and asked them to call for help. She was sent in a taxi to the hospital with a fracture of the left wrist and a sprained tailbone. She was also rather bruised."

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From the new book "Uten nåde", published next week.

Faktaboks

Background:
On March 29, 1995, Nina Jeanette Olaussen and Hilde arrived in Svalbard. They were going to visit a friend, Elin, who studied at The University Centre in Svalbard. Neither of the latter two women wanted their last names published.

The two visitors had bought brand-new mountain skis for the trip and were ready for adventure in a strange world.
During the evening, they were asked to go skiing the next day by someone else who lived in the barracks. The girls refused, since Nina was using the day to go in her new ski boots – without skis.

The next day Elin suddenly had to go to Svea as part of her studies. Nina and Hilde chose to go for a walk, as they had planned. They decided to go up to the cairn behind Svalbard Church and follow Platåberget over to Tverrdalen, further into Longyeardalen.

In the days before Nina and Hilde arrived in Svalbard there had been warnings about many unusual polar bear sightings around Longyearbyen. Neither of the women had a weapon.

The wind was cold and miserable as Nina and Hilde came up Plateåberget. In 25 degrees of frost they began to follow in the tracks of a two-track vehicle.


After the accident:
The governor's office received notification from Longyearbyen Hospital at 12:25 p.m. that a young woman had called and reported two people had been attacked by a bear, and that one of them remained up on the mountain.

A helicopter was at the site 13 minutes after the message was received. They found Nina laying dead, with the bear over her.

The bear was chased away by the helicopter, but made another attack against the governor's snowmobile patrol, which had come to the place.
Shortly afterwards it was the determined the polar bear should be killed. It was felled by a shot from 125 yards away.

The bear was a two-year male weighing 88 kilograms and measuring 168 centimeters from nose to tail.

The incident made ​​a strong impression on the population of Longyearbyen. The church, the governor and the hospital lowered their flags to half mast. Her friend Elin was brought by helicopter from Svea.

In the aftermath of the accident a discussion arose again about the danger of polar bears in Longyearbyen and the necessity of being armed.
Today, there is a cairn at the site where Nina Jeanette Olaussen were killed. On the cairn there is a picture of her.

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