'No stone unturned' in bear investigation
Monday 08 August 2011
The organisers of an expedition that ended in tragedy when an Eton schoolboy was mauled to death by a polar bear have vowed to "leave no stone unturned" in their investigation into events.
Horatio Chapple, 17, was camping in Svalbard, Norway, with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) when their group came under attack on Friday. Four other members of their group were injured and are being treated in hospital.
Michael "Spike" Reid, 29, the expedition leader who shot the bear in the head, and 27-year-old fellow leader Andy Ruck left hospital this morning, a spokesman for the University Hospital in Tromso said.
Patrick Flinders, 16, and 17-year-old Scott Bennell-Smith, fellow members of the "Chanzin Fire" group who were sharing a tent with Horatio, arrived back on British soil yesterday and were transferred to hospitals closer to home. Patrick, from Jersey, has been hailed a hero after punching the 250kg animal on the nose in an attempt to scare it away.
The remaining groups involved in the trip have returned to base camp and all will have returned to the UK by tomorrow. Relatives of those on the expedition and BSES staff will meet the group members, along with specialists such as doctors and counsellors if needed.
BSES spokesman Edward Watson said: "Rest assured, we will leave no stone unturned in investigating the tragic incident on 5 August in Svalbard.
"The Norwegian authorities' inquiries are under way. In parallel we have begun to fully review procedures, examine equipment and gather witness statements to understand if anything could have been done to prevent this tragic incident happening.
"The investigation into the Chanzin Fire incident will be chaired by an independent third party who we will appoint shortly, and we will make our findings public. I am keen that this is a transparent process for the benefit not only of our society but for the exploring community as a whole."
He said that there would be no comment about the attack itself, at the request of Norwegian authorities, until their investigation was complete.
Mr Watson added: "A young man has lost his life, and four expedition members were injured. We remain committed to supporting those affected through this particularly difficult time in their lives."
The teenagers and group leaders had been camped on the Von Postbreen glacier near Longyearbyen on Svalbard, north of the Norwegian mainland.
Tributes have been paid to Horatio, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, who was an aspiring medic and was "so excited about his plans to be a doctor". In a statement, his relatives praised his "amazing sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself".
Patrick's father Terry Flinders, 58, said his son has a fractured skull and had undergone an operation in Norway to remove small pieces of bone. The bear had Patrick's head in its mouth but miraculously he escaped. He also suffered arm injuries.
Mr Flinders said his son's face and head are badly swollen but that he spoke to him on the phone and he sounded well. Recounting the conversation, Mr Flinders said: "He said: 'Dad, I've got a bone to pick with you, that bit you did in the paper where you said if the polar bear had glasses it would have gone for me because I was the chubbiest!' All the nurses had been laughing about it.
"When he tells me off I know he's getting back to normal."
Scott's parents are "extraordinarily relieved" to have him home, his headmaster said this morning.
Kieran Earley, of Devonport High School for Boys, told BBC Cornwall that the teenager had his jaw broken and lost some teeth after being hit in the face by the bear during the attack.
"It is an extraordinary story. I believe he was in one of the tents that was attacked. During the course of the attack he was hit by the bear and suffered a broken jaw and lost some teeth," he said. A spokesman at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth said that the teenager was in a "stable" condition.
On Saturday, BSES announced it had decided to end the £3,000-per-head expedition on the advice of the Svalbard authorities and in accordance with the wishes of the group leaders.
Police in Svalbard are continuing to investigate the incident but forensic examination into the case could take longer than usual because of the Norway massacre in Oslo and Utoya.
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