Polar bear attack survivor: I tried to gouge out his eyes

LONDON - A British expedition leader says he tried to gouge a polar bear's eyes to stop it from attacking teens on an Arctic adventure trip.

Michael Reid recounted the attack at a coroner's inquest Tuesday into the death of 17-year-old Horatio Chapple, who was fatally mauled as he slept in a tent.

Four others were injured in the August 2011 attack in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, Arctic islands that are home to about 2,400 people and 3,000 polar bears.

The campers were in a group of 80 people, most of them between the ages of 16 and 23.

The bear attacked one of the groups, made up of 13 people, in the early morning, leaving them with moderate to severe wounds that included head injuries.

Another of the survivors of the attack, 16-year-old Patrick Flinders, had to undergo emergency surgery in Norway before returning to England to have the bear's teeth pulled from his skull.

Flinder's parents had thought their son had received lacerations and other wounds to his arms in the attack, and his father said at the time he only learned of the fractured skull and embedded teeth from doctors after the emergency surgery.

Reid told the inquest in Salisbury, southern England, that he rushed from his tent and tried to shoot the bear, but his rifle did not go off. Reid said the bear then attacked him.

"I thought the weakest part is the eyes so I tried to take out the eyes with my fingers, but was unsuccessful," he said.

When the bear released him, Reid grabbed the gun again. This time it fired, killing the animal.

In Britain, inquests are held to determine the facts in cases of violent or unexplained deaths. The inquest has heard about planning decisions that may have contributed to the death of Chapple, a student at the prestigious private school Eton College.

Trip leaders considered holding a bear watch overnight but decided against it because visibility was poor. A trip wire alarm system was set up but some parts were missing and it did not work perfectly.

A report commissioned by British Exploring, which organized the trip, found that the tragedy "was caused by the rare occurrence of an intrusion of a starving polar bear into a camp situated well inland in Svalbard. It was remote possibility, but not unforeseeable."

The inquest is due to continue Wednesday.

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