Bear attack victims return home

Two members of an expedition who were injured in a polar bear attack in which a 17-year-old boy was killed will return to the UK today, the trip organisers said.

Scott Bennell-Smith and Patrick Flinders will be flown back to Britain under the care of a specialist medical evacuation team, the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) confirmed, and admitted to hospital here.

The organisation asked for the pair's privacy to be respected.

Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple died in the horrific attack in Svalbard, Norway on Friday, and four others were injured when the massive predator attacked their group.

The five men and boys were part of a group camping on the Von Postbreen glacier near Longyearbyen on Svalbard, north of the Norwegian mainland.

They had been researching climate change by studying glaciers and documenting changes since previous expeditions.

The family of aspiring medic Horatio hailed him as a "strong, fearless and kind" boy, who had been "so excited about his plans to be a doctor".

In a statement, they praised his "amazing sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself".

The family of the teenager, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, said: "He was on the cusp of adulthood and had a clear vision of where his life was going."

Eton College 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. We extend our sympathy and condolences to Horatio's family and friends."

The schoolboy's body was due to be transported from Svalbard to Tromso by plane yesterday.

Plans are being made to bring home the two other members of the party who were injured - Michael "Spike" Reid, the expedition leader who shot the bear, and Andy Ruck - when medics and transport authorities allow, BSES said.

Mr Reid's father spoke of his pride at his son's bravery.

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 said he was very, very brave."

Michael Reid, 29, who lives in London and works as an events co-ordinator for the Royal Geographical Society, sustained injuries to his face and neck.

Fellow leader Mr Ruck, 27, believed to be from Aberdeen, was also seriously hurt.

Scott, 17, from Cornwall, and Patrick, 16, from Jersey, who was said to have punched the 250kg bear on the nose to escape, sustained less serious wounds.

Peter Reid said he was "very anxious" when the BSES called him on Friday to inform him of the bear attack.

He added: "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."

Wesley Riant, 16, who attended Haute Vallee School with Patrick, described his friend's excitement about the trip, saying: "Nothing was going to stop him going."

Patrick's father, Terry Flinders, has flown to Norway to be with his son, he added.

Scott's father, Peter Bennell-Smith, said Friday had been "without doubt the worst day of my life."

He said: "It will never leave me to think how close Scott came to being killed that day. I am so sorry for the loss of his new friend and fellow adventurer, Horatio.

"It is every parent's worst nightmare."

Scott, from St Mellion, is studying for his 'A' levels at Devonport High School for Boys in Plymouth.

A spokesman for the school said he had sustained a fractured jaw and other head injuries during the attack, including the loss of some teeth.

Jane Owen, the British ambassador to Norway, visited the four survivors and said they were all coping well.

Yesterday BSES announced it had decided to end the expedition on the advice of the Svalbard authorities and in accordance with the wishes of the group leaders.

Police are investigating the incident.

A spokesman for the governor of Svalbard said: "It is now known that the polar bear was killed by a single rifle shot. It has now been transported to Longyearbyen and will be investigated by specialists."

Later the BSES said that the eight other uninjured members of the group would be returning to the UK in the next 24 hours.

The remaining groups, called Fires, involved in the trip have returned to base camp and arrangements are being made for them to come home within the next few days.

Relatives of those on the trip and BSES staff will meet the expedition members, along with specialists such as doctors and counsellors if needed.