Polar bear attack survivors recovering after surgery

Horatio Chapple
Image caption Horatio Chapple had been expected to read medicine after completing his studies at Eton

Four survivors of an Arctic polar bear attack that left a UK teenager dead are recovering after surgery, Norwegian hospital staff have said.

Medics said all four had head injuries, including two with severe injuries, but were ready to be transferred to UK hospitals when transport was available.

Some of their families are due to arrive in Tromsoe following Friday's campsite attack on Spitsbergen.

Horatio Chapple, 17, who came from Bishopstone, Wiltshire, was killed.

His family paid tribute to him in a statement, describing him as "strong, fearless and kind".

They said 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".

"He was on the cusp of adulthood and had a clear vision of where his life was going," they added.

Eton College, where Mr Chapple was a pupil, expressed its "deep sadness" and offered its condolences to his family and friends.

It said in a statement: "Horatio was a very well-liked member of the school and respected by masters and boys alike. His loss is devastating to those who knew him."

'Shocking and horrific'

Doctors at University Hospital in Tromsoe, just off the Norwegian mainland, said all four young men had undergone surgery under general anaesthetic into the early hours of Saturday morning.

There were 80 people on the expedition, which was organised by the British Schools Exploring Society, a youth development charity.

It announced on Saturday that it had decided to end the trip, which had been scheduled to run until 28 August, and make arrangements for the remaining members to be brought home.

BSES chairman Edward Watson said: "This tragic incident has affected everyone involved, and we believe ending the expedition is the most appropriate decision."

Image caption Michael "Spike" Reid shot the bear dead and is now in hospital with mouth and neck wounds

It named the injured campers as trip leaders Michael "Spike" Reid, 29, from Plymouth and Andrew Ruck, 27, who is from Brighton but lives in Edinburgh, and trip members Patrick Flinders, 17, from Jersey, and Scott Bennell-Smith, 16.

Mr Reid and Mr Ruck sustained severe injuries, and were in a stable condition after surgery.

The two teenagers, who sustained moderate injuries, are also stable in hospital.

The attack on the campsite near the Von Post glacier about 25 miles (40km) from Longyearbyen, took place early on Friday. Eight other campers were uninjured.

The bear was shot dead by Mr Reid, and the group airlifted to hospital in Longyearbyen and then on to Tromsoe, having contacted the authorities using a satellite phone.

'Unlikely event'

Peter Reid, the father of Michael, said his son had emailed them to describe how he was attacked when he went to assist.

"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."

Mr Reid, who said his son suffered head and neck injuries, added: "We were shaken by the news, but we have a son alive and under very good medical care in Norway. There's a family in Wiltshire who have lost their son. For us, their grief must be unimaginable."

Image caption The bear is thought to have crossed a trip wire - designed to set off warning flares - before the attack

"This was such a rare and unlikely event, it was inconceivable."

The British ambassador to Norway, Jane Owen, speaking after visiting the injured in hospital, said the patients "are talking, they are responding and they are receiving excellent care".

She said the British authorities were working to establish when it would be possible to medically evacuate them back to the UK so they could be with their families as they recovered.

The ambassador said the attack was "really shocking and horrific".

She said: "I cannot begin to imagine what a dreadful ordeal it is for everyone involved and of course especially the families.

"And our thoughts and prayers go out, particularly to the parents of and the family of Horatio, but also everyone who's been affected by this."

And, when asked about the lessons that could be learned, the ambassador said: "I think this is something that, obviously, the Norwegian authorities will want to look at and I'm sure various groups will want to look at.

"We all need to have a review of our policies and activities as a result of this dreadful event."

'Extremely dangerous'

Campers in the area normally place trip wires around tents when they go to sleep, which set off emergency rockets or flares if crossed by an animal.

Lars Erik Alfheim, vice-governor of Svalbard, said polar bears were common in the area, adding that they are "extremely dangerous" and can "attack without any notice".

Mr Alfheim said there was no policy to ban travelling to the islands but added it was a wild environment and there were "a number of precautions that one needs to take when travelling here".

The BSES, based in Kensington, west London, organises scientific expeditions to remote areas to develop teamwork and a spirit of adventure.

Polar bears are one of the largest land carnivores, reaching up to 8ft (2.5m) and weighing 800kg (125st).

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