Runway incursion: Polar bear family visits Svea airport, chased away with fire truck

A mother polar bear and two cubs who’ve made several visits in or near Longyearbyen appear to be expanding their tour of Svalbard’s settlements as a trio of bears assumed to be the same animals wandered onto the airstrip at Svea on Friday morning, according to officials.

The bears were spotted at about 9 a.m. near the fuel storage tanks, said Joachim Myhrvang, a firefighter at the mining settlement, in an interview with Svalbardposten.

“When we came down, they were on their way over the airport fence,” he said. “There was some packed snow gathered at the fence and all three climbed over.”

Officials opening the gate to the airport and chased the bears away using a fire truck and a car, Myhrvang told the newspaper. The bears wandered out onto the sea ice in Van Mijenfjorden.

Tracks from three bears were first discovered Jan. 13 at a cabin about 25 kilometers from Longyearbyen and the bears were observed several more times during the next week, including twice inside the city limits near The University Centre in Svalbard. Officials with The Governor of Svalbard’s office chased the animals further and further away during beach visit using snowmobiles and a helicopter, finally chasing them to Van Mijenfjorden during an all-night operation last Sunday.

But while that put the bears a significant distance from Longyearbyen, it also meant they were in the same fjord where Svea is located.

Myhrvang told Verdens Gang it appears the mother and cubs appear to be the same bears who visited Longyearbyen. He said they may have been lured to Svea by odors from garbage containers.

Mining was suspended at Svea last fall, but a skeleton staff is maintaining the mine in the hope a sustained rise in coal prices make operations feasible again. Store Norske is also planning to offer a full range of tourism activities there starting this year.