The trip leader of an expedition in which a 17-year-old boy was mauled to death by a polar bear tells an inquest how he wrestled with the animal as it attacked him after his rifle failed to fire.
Horatio Chapple (pictured above) was on an adventure holiday to the remote Svalbard islands in August 2011 with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) when he died.
The Eton pupil, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, was sleeping in his tent when the bear went on the rampage, inflicting fatal injuries to his head and upper body.
Four others were hurt before the bear was shot dead at the camp site, where the group, known as Chanzin Fire, had been staying.
Also injured during the incident were Andrew Ruck, 27, from Brighton, 17-year-old Patrick Flinders, from Jersey, and 16-year-old Scott Bennell-Smith, from St Mellion in Cornwall.
Trip leader Michael Reid, known as Spike, from Plymouth, Devon, told the Salisbury inquest that he was woken up by several people shouting “bear attack”. He then grabbed the group’s rifle and left his tent.
He said: “There were shouts of ‘bear’, or ‘bear attack’, male voices, from more than one person. Immediately I exited the tent through one of the doors with the rifle.
The only priority was getting out as swiftly as possible and taking the rifle with me as this was a serious situation. Michael Reid, trip leader
“The only priority was getting out as swiftly as possible and taking the rifle with me as this was a serious situation.”
He continued: “I took a carefully aimed shot at the bear in the chest area of the bear but the rifle didn’t fire. I cocked the rifle again and took another attempt at an aimed shot at the bear.
“I do not know why this failure was happening and so I carried on this until the magazine was empty.
“The bear was very close so I was able to get a clear aim.”
He continued: “I remember the bear biting my head and I thought the weakest part is the eyes so I tried to take out the eyes with my fingers – but was unsuccessful.
“Once it had moved off me I then recall asking ‘Where is my rifle?’ and someone said ‘It’s in your tent’ and I found it there.
I thought the weakest part is the eyes, so I tried to take out the eyes with my fingers – but was unsuccessful. Michael Reid
“With one of the rounds that was on the ground having been ejected, I cocked the rifle and fired the round at the bear as it was attacking someone else.
He said that this time the weapon worked and fired a shot at the bear.
Mr Reid, 31, said the expedition had been supplied with an incomplete tripwire system, meaning they had to set it up in a triangle formation rather than the advised rectangular shape. The tripwire system was placed around the campsite to alert the expedition to the presence of bears.
He explained that his group also had to improvise using a paper clip to modify the trigger system because the brass fittings were missing.
He said: “The tripwire system in base camp worked inconsistently, the system that we tested at the ice-climbing camp on our first or second night out from the base camp operated 100 per cent when we tested it.”
He also said that any tripwire systems were not foolproof because the cartridge would not fire if the bear walked into the post, knocking it over, rather than the wire.