Polar bear attack survivors recovering in Norwegian hospital

Officials remove the body of the killer polar bear on the Von
 Postbreen glacier. Photograph:
 Arild Lyssand/AFP/Getty Images
UK ambassador says four people injured in polar bear attack in which a British teenager died are responding well to treatment
Four victims of a polar bear attack on a remote Arctic island that left a British teenager dead are recovering in hospital, the UK's ambassador to Norway has said.

Jane Owen, who visited the survivors in hospital in the northern city of Tromso, said they were responding well to treatment.

"I have been to see all the people affected and they are talking, they are responding and they are receiving excellent medical care at the moment," she told the BBC.

Investigations are under way after Horatio Chapple, 17, from Wiltshire, was mauled to death in the bear attack on Friday morning at a campsite on the Von Postbreen glacier on the island of Spitsbergen, in the Svalbard archipelago.

The bear was shot dead by one of the leaders of the party of 13, who were with a group of 80 taking part in a five-week Arctic expedition run by the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), a youth development charity based at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

His friends Patrick Flinders, 16, and Scott Smith, 17, were injured fighting off the bear, as were the expedition guides Michael Reid, 29, and Andrew Ruck, 27.

The four, two of whom were severely hurt, were helicoptered to a hospital 25 miles away in Spitsbergen's capital, Longyearbyen, after the group raised the alarm by satellite phone at 7.30am.

They were later flown to University hospital in Tromso where they were described as being in a stable condition. A spokeswoman said they would be transferred to a British hospital as soon as they were strong enough to be moved.

The first account of the attack came from Flinders's father, Terry. "The bear got into the tent where Patrick was with two friends, and he just, for some reason, grabbed hold of the other boy and just killed him," he told ITV Channel Television.

"There were three of them in a tent and I don't really know too much, why he chose the other boy – perhaps he was the closest one. If he looked at Patrick, he was the chubbiest one, he probably had more meat on him, bless him.

"Patrick, I think, was probably in the middle, because he grabbed hold of his head next, and then his arm, and I don't know how Patrick got out to be honest. Unless it was when the guy came in and shot the bear and maybe that's how Patrick got away with it, because they actually shot the polar bear, but the young lad was already dead."

Flinders said a warning tripwire system – used to scare off polar bears by triggering a flare – had failed to activate.

"This time it didn't happen apparently, and one of the other chaps came out with a rifle and tried to kill the polar bear and didn't do it," he said. "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."

The BSES chairman, Edward Watson, said Chapple had been a "fine young man". He said the society had been in touch with his family, who live near Salisbury, and had offered "our utmost sympathy".

Tributes have been paid to the teenager on Facebook, and a group called RIP Horatio Chapple has been set up on the site. His aunt Rachel Chapple described him as an "astonishing nephew", adding: "I remember the day you were born. You were so sick and we all cried. And you fought and grew and filled your family with so much love.

"We miss you so. You have such excellent brothers and we are thinking of you both and sending you Horatio sized hugs. Love Aunt Rachel x."

The teenager's grandfather is understood to be Field Marshal Sir John Chapple, a former chief of the general staff, the professional head of the British army. Sir John is an ambassador for the WWF and was formerly president of BSES.

The Arctic Adventure expedition began on 23 July and was scheduled to run until 28 August, with students told they would "venture into the untouched beauty and wilderness of Svalbard".

Kyle Gouveia, who was on the expedition, told Sky News the group 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 Svalbard and practised using "bear flares", said the 17-year-old.

Liv Asta Odegaard, a spokeswoman for the governor of Svalbard, said campers in the area normally laid down tripwire around tents when they went to sleep, to set off an emergency rocket if crossed by an animal.

She 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. She confirmed one of the campers had shot the bear dead.

Earlier this year the Svalbard governor issued a warning after several polar bears were seen close to Longyearbyen. Dwindling sea ice in recent years has led the bears, which usually hunt seals, to look inland for food, including from the eggs of barnacle geese on the island.

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