Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Paper clips 'contributed' to Horatio's death

An independent inquiry has found that inadequate equipment and limited staff training contributed to the death of 17-year-old student Horatio Chapple who was mauled by a polar bear in 2011.

PT1M39S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3bkfj 620 349

The death of a British teenager, who was mauled by a polar bear in Norway, could have been avoided if paper clips had not been used to repair a trip wire intended to alert his group to approaching animals, an independent inquiry has found.

There were a series of failings that led to the incident, including that the explorers were poorly equipped, the report by former High Court judge Sir David Steel concluded.

Horatio Chapple, 17, a pupil at the exclusive Eton College, was killed by the 247-kilogram bear, which entered the expedition’s campsite on the Norwegian Arctic island of Svalbard early in the morning in August 2011.

Authorities remove the polar bear's carcass following the attack.

Authorities remove the polar bear's carcass following the attack. Photo: AFP

Eighty 16- to 23-year-olds were on the expedition, organised by the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES).

The expedition was cut short after Mr Chapple was killed and four others were injured in the attack.

The group were using trip wires to warn them of approaching bears while they were sleeping. The wires were designed to set off explosive charges that would scare off the animals and alert the explorers.

Eton College student Horatio Chapple was killed by the bear in 2011.

Eton College student Horatio Chapple was killed by the bear in 2011. Photo: Supplied

However, the former judge found paper clips had been used as a substitute for plates, which he said made it difficult to establish the trip wire.

The conclusions of the inquiry into Horatio’s death came ahead of the start of an inquest.

Sir David found that a series of failings contributed to the tragedy.

At the inquest, Horatio’s parents GP Olivia and surgeon David Chapple, said they had been concerned about polar bear attacks before he went on the trip.

They said they had carefully examined a risk assessment document before he left and believed a number of safety precautions would be in place to protect him.

Mr Chapple said: “We believed that the staff at BSES would do as they said and act responsibly to protect the children under their care.

“We were never told the bear trip wires only sometimes work. The risk assessment refers to flares being available to all members of the expedition.

“If this had been implemented, then Horatio would have at least had some time to defend himself other than with his bare hands.”

In the full report, Sir David explained what went wrong and said the starving polar bear’s intrusion was a “remote possibility but not unforeseeable”.

Sir David criticised the “inadequate equipment” given to the group after their trip wire failed to trigger. In his conclusions, he described it as “defective”.

Sir David also criticised the lack of a bear protection system, which was not put in place because of concern of fatigue. He found a bear watch would have given warning of the bear’s approach, giving more time to the young explorers to prepare themselves.

However, he accepted this was not against Norwegian advice nor the BSES.

During the attack, Mike Reid, the 29-year-old expedition leader, desperately tried to shoot the polar bear after it attacked the tent where people were sleeping. However each time he pulled the trigger the rifle failed to go off.

Based on those facts, Sir David attacked the “very limited” training in the use of the Mauser rifle.

He also criticised the fact that flares were not given to all within the group which meant that, after the initial attack, group members were left without protection.

The report was completed some time ago but was deferred to the first day of the inquest at the request of Horatio’s parents.

In the report, the author criticised the fact that one of the group leaders had been recruited shortly before the party went to Norway and highlighted that the joint leader “had no experience in Svalbard”.

The judge said the layout of the campsite could have “contributed to the bear’s reaction” as the tents were in a circle rather than a line, as recommended, to avoid making a trespassing bear feel trapped.

Based on his conclusions as to what went wrong and what was to blame, Sir David recommended a bear watch to become the norm, an upgrade of rifle training and a complete review of trip wire systems.

But he cautioned that the trip wire “should be treated as a secondary protection device”.

Sir David praised the “great courage” of Horatio and the other members of the group during the attack, which began as the camp was asleep.

British Exploring Society chairman, Edward Watson, said: “I would like to reiterate our deepest sympathy for Horatio’s family, our sorrow that such a tragedy occurred on one of our expeditions and our sincere regret at the death of a fine young man.

“Horatio epitomised everything a young explorer should be and will not be forgotten.”

Mr Watson promised the recommendations by Sir David were accepted and implemented, which the judge confirmed had been addressed.

Mr Watson added: “There were important lessons to be learnt from this tragedy and, following a comprehensive strategic review (a process that began before the tragedy but in which Sir David’s report played an important part), we have made significant changes to the way the society operates, including some that go beyond what Sir David recommended.”

The Telegraph, London