Norway bear tragedy expedition called off

Plans were being made today for an expedition party to return to the UK after a 17-year-old boy was killed by a polar bear in Norway.

Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple died and four other people were injured on Friday after the bear attacked a group travelling on a British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) expedition.

BSES chairman Edward Watson announced yesterday that the expedition had been called off as a result of the tragedy and all members would be brought home.

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 four other members of Horatio's party who were injured in the incident were recovering in hospital in Norway following surgery, with plans in place to bring them home imminently.

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.

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. But 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 said he was very, very brave."

Michael Reid, 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 Andrew Ruck, 27, believed to be from Aberdeen, Scott Bennell-Smith, 17, from Cornwall, and Patrick Flinders, 16, from Jersey, also underwent treatment and were described as stable.

Patrick was said to have punched the 250kg male bear on the nose in an attempt to fend off the attack.

Mr Ruck's and Mr Reid's injuries were said to be severe, while Scott and Patrick sustained less serious wounds.

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.

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."

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

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.

The school said he was "making good progress" in a ward alongside other injured party members, and was expected to be airlifted back to the UK today before being admitted to hospital for further treatment.

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

She said it was a priority to bring them home soon, adding: "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."

Mr Watson said the decision to end the expedition was taken on the advice of the Svalbard authorities and in accordance with the wishes of the group leaders.

"This tragic incident has affected everyone involved and we believe ending the expedition is the appropriate decision to make," he said.

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."