Thursday 14 December 2017

Family tribute to bear attack boy

Rosa Silverman, Press Association

The grieving family of an Eton schoolboy who was killed by a polar bear while on an adventure holiday in north Norway paid tribute to him today as "strong, fearless and kind".

Horatio Chapple, 17, died after the bear attacked a party travelling on a British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) expedition yesterday.

His relatives said in a statement today he had been "so excited about his plans to be a doctor" and praised his "amazing sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself".

Four other members of Horatio's group were injured in the incident and are recovering in hospital in Norway following surgery.

The teenager's family, who have requested privacy, said: "He was on the cusp of adulthood and had a clear vision of where his life was going."

Meanwhile the father of injured man Michael "Spike" Reid, an expedition leader who shot the bear, spoke of his pride at his son's bravery.

Mr Reid, 29, had been sleeping in a nearby tent when the bear attacked and went to assist, when he too was set upon.

In an email sent from his bed at the University Hospital in Tromso, where the survivors were taken, he told his family how he fired at the bear.

His father, Peter Reid, 65, from Plymouth, said: "He told us the bear attacked the tent with three people in it, and he and another leader went to help and were viciously attacked by the bear.

"He managed to get away, ran to get a gun and shot the bear."

He said he did not want to use the word "hero" to describe his son but added: "The other members of the group wanted to know how Spike was, and they said he was very, very brave."

Michael Reid sustained injuries to his face and neck in the incident and remained in hospital today, along with fellow leader Andrew Ruck, 27, Patrick Flinders, 16, and Scott Bennell-Smith, 17, who also underwent treatment overnight.

Mr Ruck's and Mr Reid's injuries were described as severe, while Scott and Patrick sustained less serious injuries. All were stable after operations.

The five men and boys attacked were part of a group travelling on a British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) expedition, which was camped on the Von Postbreen glacier near Longyearbyen on Svalbard, north of the Norwegian mainland.

Peter Reid described his shock when the BSES called him yesterday to inform him of the incident in which Horatio, from near Salisbury in Wiltshire, died.

"We were very anxious," he said. "We're upset, but there's a family in Wiltshire with a 17-year-old son who's been killed and we can't imagine the grief they're going through."

On hearing his son had shot the bear, he felt a "mixture of anxiety and pride," he said.

His son, who lives in London and works as an events co-ordinator for the Royal Geographical Society, spoke warmly of Horatio in his email, he added.

Michael Reid described the schoolboy as "one of the best members of our group" and wrote "I am so devastated."

The young man had been "really excited" about going on the trip, his first expedition with the BSES, his father said.

"He called us on the sat phone on Saturday and was having a great time," he said, but had been left traumatised by the incident.

Jane Owen, the British ambassador to Norway, has visited the four survivors and said they were "all bearing up well".

She said: "It's clearly a priority to get them home as soon as possible. They're receiving extremely good treatment here at the hospital in Tromso.

"We are working with the hospital authorities to establish when will be the right time to arrange for them to be medevaced (given a medical evacuation) back to the UK so that they can be with their families as they go through the recovery process.

"Our priority is obviously to support those involved and respect families' need for privacy at this very difficult time.

"Our thanks should go to the emergency services and the hospitals here in Norway, who are doing a very good job under difficult circumstances."

Embassy staff have been in contact with the relatives of the survivors to update them on the situation, she added.

"It's obviously still a very difficult time for the families and so we are here to try and help and our sympathies and feelings go out to everyone who's been involved with this awful tragedy," she said.

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