Polar bear schoolboy death: Leader tried to 'take out' animal's eyes

Horatio Chapple Image copyright Family handout/PA
Image caption Horatio Chapple was described as "a fine young gentleman with amazing potential"

The leader of an Arctic expedition, in which a polar bear mauled an Eton schoolboy to death, has said he tried to gouge out the animal's eyes.

Michael Reid told an inquest into the death of Horatio Chapple, 17, from Salisbury, he had tried to shoot the bear but his rifle did not fire.

The boy died in 2011 on an expedition to Svalbard, Norway, organised by the British Schools Exploring Society.

Mr Reid said the bear turned on him and bit his head as he tried to scare it.

He told the inquest he went for the bear's eyes because he thought that was an area of weakness.

Image copyright Governor of Spitsbergen/Scanpix/AP
Image caption The shot bear was sent for examination by experts

Mr Reid, from Plymouth, said he heard voices shouting "bear attack" on the morning of 5 August and he rushed out of his tent with a rifle.

He said he tried to shoot the bear which was on top of one of the teenagers in the group, but the rifle failed to fire.

"I cocked the rifle, took aim, aimed it carefully as I didn't want to shoot the YE (young explorer).

"Although it was close I didn't want to injure the YE or worse," he said.

"So I took a carefully aimed shot at the bear in the chest area of the bear but the rifle didn't fire.

"I cocked the rifle again and took another attempt at an aimed shot at the bear."

The rifle failed to fire despite repeated attempts.

Mr Reid said the bear then turned on him.

He described how he shouted out for others to use pen flares to help scare the animal off.

"I remember the bear biting my head and I thought the weakest part is the eyes so I tried to take out the eyes with my fingers, but was unsuccessful," he added.

Mr Reid said the bear moved off and he grabbed his rifle again and eventually managed to shoot the animal dead.

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Media captionHoratio Chapple died in 2011 on an expedition to Svalbard, Norway

The inquest heard that the Mauser 98K rifle had a three-position safety catch mechanism, which meant rounds could be ejected if fired with the catch in the highest position.

Mr Reid said he was unaware of this at the time and does not know which position the catch was in at the time.

"From the reports I have read, there's a chance that the safety catch had got up in that position," he said.

Mr Reid described Horatio as a fantastic member of the team.

"One of the best, if not the best on the expedition. A fine young gentleman with amazing potential," he said.

Also injured in the attack were trip leader Andrew Ruck, 27, who is from Brighton but lives in Edinburgh, and trip members Patrick Flinders, 17, from Jersey and Scott Bennell-Smith, 16, from Cornwall.

During day two of the inquest, Matthew Burke - one of the young explorers on the trip - described how the bear "reared up and then slammed itself down" on Horatio.

Another member of the Chanzin Fire group, Rosanna Baker from London, told the court she awoke to male voices screaming and shouting "bear, bear".

"I saw the bear on the tent next to me and someone standing up who had obvious head injuries," she said.

"I zipped my tent back up, sat back and conferred briefly with my tent-mates and some moments later I opened the back of the tent facing away from the circle of the tent and looked out looking for an escape route and saw Matt Burke.

"He came over to talk to us and advised us to stay in the tent. I sat in the tent until I heard a shot."

The inquest continues.

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