Parents speak of their 'fearless' adventurer son

As tributes are paid to the young man killed by a polar bear in Norway, questions are asked about the system supposed to prevent such attacks
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The Independent Online

The family of a teenager who was mauled to death by a polar bear that clawed through his tent on a Norwegian glacier, paid tribute last night to their "fearless" son.

Horatio Chapple, 17, died on Friday after the animal attacked the campsite of a group of British teenagers on an Arctic expedition. Four others were seriously injured.

In a short statement his family said: "Horatio was so excited about his plans to be a doctor. [He was] strong, fearless and kind with an amazing sense of humour and an ability to laugh at himself.

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

The group was part of an 80-strong expedition of young people from the British Schools Exploration Society (BSES), a London-based charity. The society said that following the death it was bringing to an end its annual Norwegian expedition.

The bear attacked the group in the early morning as the 13 expedition members slept in their tents on the Von Postbreen glacier in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. According to BSES, the team were undertaking a long-term project to study glaciers and document climate change.

Last night, Eton College, where Mr Chapple was a student, described him as a popular pupil whose death was "devastating".

In a statement the college said: "Horatio was a very well-liked member of the school and respected by masters and boys alike."

Those injured in the attack included the trip leaders, Michael "Spike" Reid, 29, and Andrew Ruck, 27, who were both severely injured. Patrick Flinders, 16, and Scott Bennell-Smith, 17, from Cornwall, both suffered less severe injuries. All four are said to be in a stable condition after undergoing operations in the Norwegian town of Tromso.

Mr Reid, from Plymouth, is believed to have shot and killed the bear, despite suffering serious head and neck injuries when he was mauled by the animal.

His father, Peter Reid, received an email from his son in hospital. Speaking of his pride at his son's bravery, he 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."

Mr Reid 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."

It is not yet known how the polar bear managed to avoid the camp's trip wire, which was supposed to alert the group to any unwelcome visitors by setting off an emergency rocket. The BSES is now working with the Norwegian authorities in Svalbard to establish what went wrong.

Liv Asta Odegaard, a spokeswoman for the governor of Svalbard, said it was unclear whether the BSES campers' wire had worked properly, adding that police were investigating the incident. "It is not unusual to camp here, but it is necessary to carry weapons," she said, confirming that one of the campers had shot the bear.

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

His grandfather, Field Marshal Sir John Lyon Chapple, was head of the British Army from 1989 to 1992 and was Governor of Gibraltar from 1993 to 1995. He was also a former president of the BSES.

Polar bear attacks are not unusual in Svalbard, but deaths are rare. Since 1971, only four people have been killed in the region by bear attacks.

Receding sea ice, however, has forced bears to look further inland for food. This prompted the governor of Svalbard to issue a warning earlier this year about the increased risk after several polar bears were seen near the town of Longyearbyen.