A British teen who dreamed of becoming a doctor was mauled to death by a polar bear on Friday and four other members of the Norwegian Arctic expedition were injured, officials and organizers said.
The bear was shot and killed after attacking the camp site of 13 people on a five-week trip run by a British group to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.
“The boy who died was 17,” Svalbard Deputy Governor Lars Erik Alfheim said, with his office adding in a subsequent statement that the four injured Britons were aged 16, 17, 27 and 29.
The deceased was Horatio Chapple, said the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), an organization founded in 1932 “to provide young people with an intense and lasting experience of self-discovery in some of the world’s last true wilderness environments around today.”
“Horatio was a fine young man hoping to go on to read medicine after school,” the London-based group’s chairman Teddy Watson said.
“We and the Norwegian authorities are currently establishing the full circumstances of his tragic death and will not be releasing this until we have discussed it fully with the family,” he added.
According to local media, the group was attacked while still in their tents.
The four injured people all sustained “serious head injuries, but have been stabilized,” Alfheim said.
They were first brought to a hospital in Longyearbyen, but were then airlifted to a hospital in Tromsoe in the north of the Norwegian mainland.
The attack happened early on Friday near the Von Post glacier in the Tempel Fjord, about 40km from the archipelago’s capital Longyearbyen.
Police received a distress satellite phone call from the campers and quickly sent in helicopters as there are no roads to the site of the attack.
The eight uninjured campers — aged between 16 and 20 — were in the care of “competent personnel” in Longyearbyen, the district governor’s office said. The British embassy in Oslo said on its Web site the ambassador was “leading a consular team to Tromsoe to provide assistance,” and Watson said the BSES executive director was en route to Svalbard.
The tragedy happened just days after the expedition’s participants said in a blog post how excited they were about seeing polar bears on their trip.
“Everyone was in good spirits because we encountered another P.bear floating on the ice, this time we were lucky enough to borrow a kind Norwegian guide’s telescope to see it properly,” an entry on July 27 said. “After that experience I can say for sure that everyone dreamt of P.bears that night.”
The Barents Sea area is home to about 3,000 polar bears, which is slightly more than the number of people living on Svalbard.
Attacks are not uncommon and according to warning signs, it is illegal to leave a human settlement without carrying a gun. However, locals try to scare the animals away and only shoot them as a last resort. According to Norway’s TV2, Friday’s attack was the first deadly polar bear attack in Svalbard since 1995.