Boy mauled to death by polar bear on Arctic trip
Published 06/08/2011 | 05:00
A BRITISH schoolboy has died after being mauled by a polar bear while on an expedition to the Arctic.
Horatio Chapple (17), an Eton schoolboy and aspiring doctor, was killed when the animal rampaged into the tent in which he and his friends were sleeping on a glacier in Svalbard, Norway.
His friends, Patrick Flinders (16) and Scott Smith (17), were injured fighting off the bear, as were the expedition guides, Michael Reid (29) and Andrew Ruck (27).
Patrick is said to have punched the bear on the nose before it was shot dead by other members of the group. Horatio's grandfather, John Chapple (80), was the head of the British army from 1989 to 1992, the former governor of Gibraltar and the former president of the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), which organised the trip.
Horatio's father David, a spinal surgeon from Salisbury, Wiltshire, and his mother Susan, were too upset to comment.
Edward Watson, the BSES chairman, said of Horatio: "By all accounts he would have made an excellent doctor."
Just before Patrick headed out on the expedition to the Arctic Circle he and his father posted a short film on the internet to express his excitement over the "fantastic" trip.
The 16-year-old was particularly excited about seeing polar bears in their natural habitat.
Yesterday, however, it was the animal's brutality the boys faced after their 13-strong group was attacked by the world's biggest land carnivore.
A 7ft, 40-stone bear rampaged through their tented camp, ignoring traps designed to keep it at bay. By the time it was shot, Horatio was dead -- and Patrick and Scott, along with their two guides, were seriously injured.
Police who arrived by helicopter found the group in shock, the bloody carcase of the bear still lying among the tents, the dead and the injured.
The victims were part of a larger group of 80 that landed last month on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Norwegian arctic archipelago of Svalbard, at the start of a five-week adventure.
The island, which is more than 1,900km north of Oslo, is home to 2,000 people -- and more than 3,000 polar bears.
The BSES group based itself in the island's only town of Longyearbyen and spent a few days acclimatising and training.
Led by Mr Reid and Mr Ruck, both experienced adventurers, they learnt how to shoot the bears in an emergency and how to set traps around the tents called "snubledluss". The alarms are a network of trip wires attached to shotgun shells that go off if a bear ventures into a camp.
On Thursday night, the group set up camp on barren ground on the Hampus mountain, itself part of the Von Postbreen glacier, having trekked the 40km from Longyearbyen.
They were still asleep at about 7.30am the next day when the male bear attacked.
This time of the year the pack ice is too thin for the bears and they are confined to the land, where food is scarce.
Experts believe the animal may have been driven by a hunger so intense that it ignored the alarms and drove on into the encampment, ripping open the tents.
The attack was thought to have lasted a matter of seconds and eventually the bear was shot dead but Horatio was already dead.
The four others had serious bite and claw injuries to their heads and arms sustained as they defended themselves.
Patrick's father Terry said his son punched the bear in the face to try to escape. "The bear got into the tent where Patrick was with two friends and he just grabbed hold of the other boy and killed him," he said. "I don't really know why he chose the boy -- perhaps he was closest.
"Patrick, I think, was in the middle, because the bear grabbed hold of his head next, and then his arm, and I don't know how Patrick got out, to be honest.
"Unless it was when the guy came in and shot the bear and maybe that's how Patrick got away with it, because they actually shot the polar bear but the young lad was already dead.
"According to the doctor and the other people Patrick was trying to fend off the polar bear by hitting it on the nose.
"The polar bear attacked him with his right paw across his face and his head and his arm."
An air ambulance arrived 50 minutes later and doctors treated the wounded.
Edward Watson, the chairman of BSES, paid tribute to the dead teenager.
"Horatio was a fine young man who wanted to go on to read medicine after school," he said. "By all accounts he would have made an excellent doctor.
The last fatal attack by a polar bear in Svalbard was in September 1995.