Monday 11 December 2017

Boy (17) mauled to death by polar bear in Norway

Peter Woodman

A 17-year old boy on a British young people's adventure trip was killed today and four other young people seriously injured in a polar bear attack at their campsite in northern Norway.

The attack happened as a party travelling on a British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) expedition were camped on Von Postbreen glacier near Longyearbyen on Svalbard, north of the Norwegian main land.

The party managed to get through to Svalbard Governor's office to call for assistance after the attack early today.

Eventually, the injured were taken by helicopter to hospital in Longyearbyen and then on to University Hospital in Tromso, Norway.

BSES Expeditions, which is based in Kensington, west London, has so far not released the name of the dead person.

It said those injured were trip leaders Michael Reid and Andrew Ruck, as well as two young men - Patrick Flinders, from Jersey, who is believed to be 16, and Scott Smith.

The Governor of Svalbard's office gave the ages of those injured as 16, 17, 27 and 29.

"There were about 80 people all told in the expedition. The young people are all between 16 and 23," a BSES spokeswoman said.

Liv Asta Odegaard, spokeswoman for the governor of Svalbard, said: "We got a call via satellite phone from a British group of campers that there had been a polar bear attack and that one person was dead and that others were injured and they needed assistance.

"There are no roads in the area so we scrambled a helicopter."

She added that four other people had been "severely injured" and had been taken, first, to hospital in Longyearbyen and that air ambulances would be flying the injured on to University Hospital in Tromso.

The polar bear has been killed.

Svalbard's vice-governor, Lars Erik Alfheim, said: "After we got the call, we sent helicopters as fast as we could. When we got there we found serious injuries."

The Svalbard Governor's office said tonight that the dead person and the four that were injured, whose wounds included head injuries, were part of a group of 13 in the campsite attacked by the bear.

The office continued: "The eight persons that are physically unharmed are being taken care of by competent personnel in Longyearbyen."

Ms Odegaard said campers in the area normally lay down a trip wire around tents when they go to sleep, which sets off an emergency rocket if it is crossed by an animal, but she was unsure whether the British campers' wire had worked properly.

"It is not unusual to camp here, but it is necessary to carry weapons," she said, adding police are now investigating.

Sandra Swresser, a restaurant manager at Kroa bar in Svalbard, said: "It's very sad. We have had attacks before. It happened a year ago when a Norwegian man was attacked. As it was early in the morning I can only suppose the bear attacked them because it was looking for food."

Another local, Liv Rose Flygel, 55, said: "It's not been the first time. Last summer a man was attacked by a polar bear and there have also been attacks on a man from Austria and a girl. Only the man in the attack last summer survived. He was taken in the mouth of the bear and his friend ran after it and shot it.

"The problem is, when the ice goes, the bears lose their way and cannot catch food. People don't really know how dangerous they are. One came down to the sea recently and people were running down to take pictures."

BSES Expeditions is a registered charity and has close links with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme.

The society's expeditions are described as "a potent combination of personal development through adventurous activity and environmental research in remote wilderness areas".

As well as mountaineering in Svalbard, northern Norway and Greenland, trips include the Himalayas, the Amazon, Arctic kayaking and desert environments.

Based at the Royal Geographical Society, BSES Expeditions was founded in 1932 "to provide young people with an intense and lasting experience of self-discovery in some of the world's last true wilderness environments around today".

The expeditions are aimed not only at young people still at school but also 16 to 23-year-olds from university and other walks of life.

Leaders of expeditions tend to be drawn from schools, universities and the services, with the trips aimed at "the development of young people through the challenge of living and working in remote and testing areas of the world".

Press Association

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