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Saturday, August 6, 2011

'Strong, fearless and kind': Grieving family's tribute to Eton schoolboy killed by polar bear in attack on Arctic expedition camp

-Michael Reid gunned down the bear and has serious head and neck injuries
-Horatio Chapple, 17, died after being mauled by the bear in his tent
-Bear was punched on the nose by boy lying next to victim

By Daily Mail Reporter

Horatio Chapple, left, has been described as 'strong, fearless and kind' by his family. Right, his father David Chapple. His family said he had been excited about becoming a doctor and praised his sense of humour

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

Aspiring medic Horatio Chapple, 17, died after the bear attacked a party travelling on a British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) expedition whilst they were sleeping in tents early yesterday morning.

Four other members of the group were injured, including Michael 'Spike' Reid, who managed to gun down the rampaging animal, and Patrick Flinders, 16, who was sleeping next to Horatio and punched the bear on the nose in a bid to stop it attacking them.

A trip-wire system which triggers a charge to scare away polar bears failed to activate, the father of one of the survivors said.

The group were camped on the Von Postbreen glacier near Longyearbyen on Svalbard, north of the Norwegian mainland.

Horatio's relatives said in a statement today he had been 'so excited about his plans to be a doctor' - like his parents David and Olivia, and praised his 'amazing sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself'.

Horatio lived with them and his younger brothers Titan and Magnus in a large country home in leafy Bishopstone, near Salisbury.

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.'

Neighbour Sarah Wilde said yesterday: ‘They are a lovely family. It is just so tragic. Horatio was such a bright boy. David and Olivia work really hard – David is a top consultant and Olivia is a doctor, too.’

The teenager’s aunt, Rachel Chapple, left a tribute for him on Facebook. The mother of four, who lives in New York, said: ‘Horatio, I think of you tall and strong and smiling in your quiet, charming way. You were an astonishing nephew.’

Miss Chapple added: ‘We miss you so. You have such excellent brothers and we are thinking of you both and sending you Horatio-sized hugs.’

Meanwhile the father of Mr Reid, spoke of his pride at his son's bravery. Despite managing to kill the bear, the 29-year-old was left with serious injuries to his head and neck and is still in hospital.

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.'

Also still in hospital is fellow leader Andrew Ruck, 27, believed to be from Aberdeen, Mr Flinders, 16, from Jersey, and Scott Bennell-Smith, 17, from Cornwall, 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.

Terry Flinders, from Jersey, said the bear burst into the tent where his son Patrick lay, killing Horatio next to him.

He said Patrick punched the polar bear on the nose in a desperate attempt to save his life. He escaped with head and arm injuries.

Hero: Adventurer Michael Reid, who works in London, with his sisters Juliet and Rosalind

Happy family: Michael Reid with, from left his sisters Rosalind and Juliet, father Peter and mother Rosemary

As the party came under attack, they made a frantic call for help using a satellite phone and scrambled helicopters to the glacier, which has no road access during the summer.

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.’

Earlier today Mr Reid said: 'We got a phone call from the BSES in the morning. We were devastated and very worried.

'We have been told everyone was saying it was Michael who shot the bear and he was a hero. It was very moving. A lot of the day, we've been thinking about the family of the boy who died.'

Mr Reid said the incident had come as a complete shock.

He said: 'In all honesty, we were more worried last year when Michael went to Afghanistan to climb.This was such a rare and unlikely event, it was inconceivable.'

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.

Mr Reid added his son was one of the team leaders responsible for science experiments and had also been involved in training.

He said: 'It's what he loves to do. He was so excited to be going when we spoke to him four days ago. He was having a terrific time and was really in his element.

Survivor: 16-year-old Patrick Flinders tried to punch the bear on the nose to try and stop it from attacking them

'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.'

A close friend of Patrick, from Jersey was stunned to hear what had happened.

Wesley Riant, 16, who went to Haute Vallee School with Patrick, said: 'It's a bit of shock. I don't think you can imagine anyone trying to take on a polar bear.'

He described his friend's excitement about going on the trip, saying: 'Nothing was going to stop him going. This sort of thing got his attention. He really wanted to do it from day one. It's not like a normal holiday.'

Tragic: Horatio Chapple, left, wanted to be a doctor and his family have praised him for his sense of humour. Mr Reid, 29, right, who killed the bear described Horatio as 'one of the best members of the group'

Hospital staff said it was hoped the survivors could be transferred to a hospital in the UK as soon as possible.

Tributes to Horatio continued to pour in, with scores of messages of condolence posted on a Facebook page by friends, family and well-wishers from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand.

The teenager, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, who had just finished his penultimate year at Eton, had hoped to study medicine at university.

His grandfather was the former head of the British Army.

Corpse: Rescuers haul away the dead polar bear killed by Michael Reid. It ripped through a tent killing Horatio Chapple

Battle with the bear: An aerial view of the camp shows the four tents with the dead polar bear in the middle of the site having been killed by the group during the struggle

Field Marshal Sir John Lyon Chapple, GCB, CBE served as Chief of the General Staff from 1989 to 1992 and was Governor of Gibraltar from 1993 to 1995.

He is the president of BSES and went on one of its expeditions in the 1950s.

About 80 people were involved in the expedition, with the young people in the group aged between 16 and 23.

The BSES said it had contacted every family affected and they had 'shown support and understanding'.

Its priority is providing help and assistance, it said, and executive director Lt Gen Peter Pearson is on the ground in Svalbard.

The expedition was formed of seven teams known as 'fires', the BSES said. The fire affected was formed of 11 expedition members and two leaders.

The society said in a statement: 'They were undertaking a long-term project to study glaciers and document changes since previous expeditions as part of ongoing scientific research into climate change.

'The eight uninjured expedition members of this fire are safe and well. Every other fire in this expedition has returned to the base camp, safe and accounted for. An announcement will be made about their plans within the next 24 hours.

'We extend our utmost sympathy to the family of Horatio Chapple.

'We will continue to focus on providing support and guidance to our expedition members and their families.'

Investigations into the incident are under way.

BSES Expeditions, which is based in Kensington, west London, 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'.

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.

Tragic: The group of young explorers from the British Schools Exploring Society aged between 16 and 25 pose for a photograph days before the attack

'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.

Attack: One of the victims of the polar bear attack is carried from a helicopter in Longyearbyen yesterday

'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.

BSES chairman Edward Watson said Horatio was a ‘fine young man’ and added: ‘By all accounts he would have made an excellent doctor.’

Horatio had left base camp with a sub-group of 13 to camp on the Von Postbreen glacier which is heavily populated with polar bears and where there have been a number of previous attacks.

Terry Flinders said he nearly fainted after learning about the attack on TV yesterday morning.

‘I phoned up the BSES and said, “Do you have any information?” The man said, “Yes we do, I’ll pass you on to the manager” – and I thought, “Oh, that’s not good”.

‘He says, “I’m sorry Mr Flinders I’ve got to tell you this”, and I said, “Look, just don’t tell me it’s him that’s dead”.

‘He went, “No, it’s not. Patrick’s in hospital in Norway with head injuries and arm injuries but it’s not life threatening”.’

From accounts of survivors, he thought the bear had chosen Horatio simply because he was the nearest.

‘Patrick was the chubbiest one – he probably had more meat on him, bless him.

‘I think he was probably in the middle, because the bear grabbed hold of his head next, and then his arm, and I don’t know how Patrick got out to be honest.

‘The polar bear attacked him with his right paw across his face and his head and his arm.’

Mr Flinders told Jersey’s Channel Television: ‘One of the other chaps came out with a rifle and tried to kill the polar bear and didn’t do it.

‘And then the leader tried to kill the polar bear, but just before he killed him apparently, the bear mauled him and he’s really, really bad.’

Kyle Gouveia, 17, who was on the expedition, said everyone was given shooting practice on the second day of the trip in case a polar bear attacked.

They also took on ‘bear watches’ at their base camp in Svarlbard and practised using ‘bear flares’, he said.

In a blog about the trip on the website posted on July 27, expedition member Marcus Wright described the group’s excitement at two previous polar bear sightings.

He wrote: ‘I think we must of all dreamt of Polar bears because the next day was eagerly waiting for the ice floes to break up so we could move on to base camp. There was a P.bear sighting across the fjord about a mile away.

‘Everyone was in good spirits because we encountered another P.bear floating on the ice, this time we were lucky enough to borrow an kind Norwegian guide’s telescope to see it properly.

Hopes: A small group of the teenagers pose at the airport before flying to Norway for the trip

‘After that experience I can say for sure that everyone dreamt of P.bears that night.’

Another blog entry described the training, saying: ‘The teams learnt how to work their stoves, put up their tents and were even trained in polar bear defence which is a requirement if spending time in Svalbard (not that a BSES Expedition has needed it!)’

The archipelago – which has a population of around 2,400 and nearly 3,000 polar bears – attract tourists with its stunning views of ice-covered mountains, fjords and glaciers.

Visitors are urged to carry high-powered rifles whenever venturing outside Svalbard’s capital Longyearbyen and polar bear safety brochure advices campers against setting up their tents in areas where bears roam.

Polar bear researcher Magnus Andersen at the Norwegian Polar Institute said the number of people involved in the attack made it the most serious he has seen.

The last time someone was killed by a polar bear at Svalbard was in 1995, when two people were killed in two different incidents, he said.

Grim news: Chairman of BSES (British Schools Exploring Society) Edward Watson reads out a statement regarding the death of Horatio Chapple

Remote: The polar bear attack happened on the Svalbard islands north of Norway

The half-ton killer that sees man as its prey


Polar bears are one of the few wild species which will actively hunt humans.

At 10ft tall and half a ton in weight, they are the world’s biggest land predators and top the food chain in the Arctic.

The fearsome creatures can smell prey 20 miles away, smash through yards of ice in minutes to reach seals and devour 100lb of meat at a time with their razor-sharp teeth.

They have incredible vision, can run on the ice at 25mph and are also powerful swimmers capable of crossing 30 miles of water at a time, making them extremely difficult to escape.

Although they feed chiefly on marine animals such as seals and young walruses, they are fearless and will stalk any animal when hungry, including humans.

There have been several previous polar bear attacks on humans in Svalbard, the area where the British teenager was killed.

Last summer a polar bear tore a Norwegian camper from his tent and dragged him 130ft across ice and rocks while he was on a kayak expedition in Svalbard.

Sebastian Plur Nilssen, 22, suffered cuts to his chest, head and neck, but survived by grabbing a rifle and killing the bear with four shots.

Locals said there have also been attacks on a man from Austria and a girl, who both died.

Liv Rose Flygel, 55, an artist and airport worker from Svalbard, said: ‘It’s not the first time. 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.’

In nearby Spitzbergen a young polar bear was killed after it attacked a camp where 17 tourists and scientists were staying in 1998.

The campers had scared off the three-year-old male once but it reappeared the following day and charged at two men after they fired warning shots.

Polar bears are well adapted for surviving their hostile, barren environment.

Their double layer of fur and four-inch thick layer of fat means they can live in temperatures of minus 50c.

During the warmer seasons, the bears mate and give birth as they wait for the ice to form, usually in October.

Fearsome: An adult polar bear is one of few species that will actively hunt humans

Scientists say there are 22,000 to 27,000 polar bears in the world, 60 per cent of them in Canada. They also live in Alaska, Russia, Greenland and Norway.

The species - Ursus maritimus - is now considered 'vulnerable', as the total number of polar bears has fallen to 25,000. However, hunting restrictions have helped the population to stabilise.

The animal is a formidable swimmer, and can swim up to 100 miles in one go through the icy waters of the Arctic.

The world's most famous polar bear was Knut, who was raised by keepers at the Berlin Zoo but died earlier this year.



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