Trip leader ‘gouged killer polar bear’s eyes as it bit his head’

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The leader of an expedition in which a 17-year-old boy was mauled to death by a polar bear has told an inquest how he wrestled with the predator as it attacked him after his rifle failed to fire.

Horatio Chapple was on an adventure holiday to Norway’s remote Svalbard islands in August 2011 with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) when he died.

Four others were hurt before the bear was shot dead at the campsite, where the group, known as Chanzin Fire, had been staying.

Trip leader Michael Reid told the inquest that he was awoken by several people shouting “bear attack”.

He then grabbed the group’s rifle and left his tent.

But when he attempted to shoot the bear his rifle failed. The animal then turned on him.

Mr Reid told the inquest: “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. 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 this time the weapon worked and fired a shot at the bear.

The inquest has heard that the Mauser 98K rifle had a three-position safety catch mechanism which meant that rounds could be ejected if fired with the catch in the highest position.

Mr Reid said he was unaware of this at the time.

The inquest continues.