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Defective equipment on polar expedition where teenager died
A TEENAGER was killed by a polar bear on an expedition where vital equipment was missing and a warning system was defective, an inquest heard today.
Horatio Chapple,17, from Bishopstone was mauled by the bear while he was on a British Schools Exploring Society expedition in the Svalbard region of Norway on August 5 2011.
The bear attacked a group in their tent, killing Horatio and injuring four others.
The attack last just a few minutes before the bear was shot dead.
Chief leader of the expedition Richard Payne told the coroner’s court that when the expedition started he discovered mines, support stakes and firing mechanisms needed to create a trip wire alarm system around the groups' camps, that would have alerted them to polar bears, were missing.
He said each group had to set up perimeters with just three small mines - designed to wake campers up and possibly frighten away the polar bears - instead of four, and the court heard the trip wire didn't always go off.
At Horatio's camp the bear broke through the trip wire and the cartridge, which lets off a loud warning bang, didn't go off.
Mr Payne said: "I have been camping in the Arctic for over 52 weeks. In all that time I haven't had a single polar bear experience. To have one in that area at that time of year is unusual and for it to behave like it did was totally out of character."
The court also heard from Horatio's parents David and Olivia Chapple who said they felt reassured by the risk assessment they were sent before the trip.
Olivia Chapple said: "I believed the risks had been fully considered by the organisation and they had done everything possible to mitigate those risks with proper equipment and planning. I believed and trusted that all of the things they listed were going to happen. I wouldn't have let him go otherwise."
The society hasn't organised expeditions to the polar region since Horatio’s death although it has developed an alternative trip wire system and has a new procedure for leaders including two weapons for each group and extra rifle training. They have also revisited risk assessment process and how they issue and account for critical equipment so that shortages can be avoided.
The inquest continues.
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