Norway polar attack: Failings left teenager at bear's mercy
Organisers of the expedition on which a British schoolboy was killed by a polar bear had a gun which failed to fire four times and had not assigned a night watchman, police have disclosed.
Horatio Chapple, 17, a pupil at Eton, was mauled to death by the 39-stone bear which entered the expedition’s campsite on the Norwegian Arctic island of Svalbard early in the morning.
An explosive trip wire designed to scare off approaching animals failed to trigger and without a watchman there was no second line of defence.
Mike Reid, the 29-year-old expedition leader, desperately tried to shoot the animal after it attacked the tent where people were sleeping, explained Superintendent Arild Lyssand . But each time he pulled the trigger the rifle failed to go off. His fellow guide Andy Ruck, 27, tried to fire a flare gun, but that failed too.
Moments later, having fatally hurt Horatio, the bear turned its attention to Mr Reid, severely injuring him. It then returned to the tent where it attacked one other teenager before chasing down a third, who had tried to escape. Mr Reid picked up a round off the ground which had failed to fire and reloaded. He then shot the bear in the head and killed it.
Superintendent Lyssand said: “The 29 year-old picked up the rifle and pulled the trigger but the gun didn’t fire. Why did this happen?
“The gunman fired again but again it didn’t go off. He fired all four bullets in magazine but none went off. We need to look at the routines of this British company to see that they were in order.”
An autopsy on the polar bear has shown that it had a “very thin layer” of fat and an empty stomach – suggesting it was driven to attack by hunger. Investigators have now questioned all but one, severely injured, survivor of the tragedy.
The expedition was organised by the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), which was camped on the Von Post glacier near Longyearbyen, 600 miles north of the Norwegian mainland. Eighty 16 to 23 year-olds were on the trip, which was planned to last until August 28, but has now been cut sort.
On Thursday night, 13 of them set up camp, including a perimeter trip wire, on barren ground following a 25-mile trek. But at 7.30 the following morning they were woken when the male bear ripped open one of the tents. Mr Reid and Andy Ruck, 27, sustained severe head injuries as they tried to defend Horatio.
Scott Bennell-Smith, 17, from Cornwall, suffered a broken jaw and smashed teeth, and Patrick Flinders, 16, of Jersey, was clawed across the face.
Expedition leaders are advised that camps should be protected either by trip wires, lookouts thought the night or guard dogs. However, it emerged yesterday that the camp had operated without an overnight lookout or guard dog.
Expeditions commonly use trip wires attached to small incendiary devices.
Regular trekkers said the wires should be attached to wooden posts driven into the ground and revealed that they must be set up correctly to ensure the device detonates when tripped, but cannot be activated by a gust of wind.
A spokesman for the governor of Svalbard said that the trip wire appeared not to have been detonated. A group of Swiss walkers ending a two day trek, said they would not trust a tripwire: “We prefer to have someone permanently on watch and rotate them over the night.”
Andy Rouse, a wildlife photographer with experience of the region, said that groups needed to be “armed to the teeth” to counter any possible threat. But it was reported that the bear may have been shot with an old Mauser hunting rifle. The German made, bolt-action weapons are common on the island, locals said.
Two of the injured left University Hospital in Tromso yesterday to fly home on separate air ambulances. One was scheduled to land in Exeter, while the other was bound for Southampton. Two other injured expedition members were due to fly home today. Their injuries are understood to include 6in cuts, claw marks and one serious bite to the arm.
Horatio’s parents were preparing to return with their son’s body.
David Chapple, 49, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Salisbury NHS Foundation, and Olivia, a doctor at the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals, flew to Tromso to make the necessary arrangements.
A statement from them said: “We, as Horatio’s family, appreciate how supportive and compassionate the Norwegian people have been to us during this extremely painful time.
“We would like to thank the British Ambassador and her staff and everyone at the British Schools Exploring Society for their incredible support and help.”
Lieut Gen Peter Pearson, executive director of the British Schools Exploring Society, said that expeditions would go on. “We have been coming here for 40 years and we have never experienced anything like this,” he said.
Peter Bennell-Smith, Scott’s father, said: “It will never leave me to think how close Scott came to being killed that day.
“I am so sorry for the loss of his new friend and fellow adventurer, Horatio; it is every parent’s worst nightmare.”