Hal, the young coyote who caught the nation's eye as he romped all over Central Park earlier this month, died Thursday night as he was being tagged for release in the wild, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The male coyote led police on a wild chase through the park before a dart tranquilized him on March 22, city officials said. He was to be released in the California Hill State Forest upstate in Putnam County, DEC spokeswoman Gabrielle DeMarco said.

"We took him yesterday from a wildlife rehabilitator on Long Island," DeMarco said. "He stopped breathing during a routine tagging procedure and he couldn't be resuscitated by DEC biologists or Cornell University graduate researchers."

Pathologists are doing a necropsy to try to determine whether the stress of the chase, captivity, transport or some other condition contributed to Hal's death, she said. "We want to determine if this can be prevented."

About a year old and weighing 35 pounds, the coyote may have wandered into the city from Westchester County, or perhaps crossed the Hudson River from New Jersey, according to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

The tawny-colored animal, nicknamed Hal by park workers, led dozens of police officers on foot and in a helicopter through the urban greenery, jumping into the water, ducking under a bridge and at one point leaping over an 8-foot fence.

He was finally caught close to 79th Street and Central Park West, a day after first being spotted. Benepe said an NYPD officer shot the animal with a tranquilizer gun at close range.