AN expedition leader whose party was attacked by a polar bear in Norway has told an inquest how the predator placed a paw on his shoulder and stared into hiseyes before clawing at his face.
Andrew Ruck, 30, had led the mountain stage of a trek with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) when their camp was attacked by a polar bear on the Von Postbreen glacier near Longyearbyen on Svalbard, north of the Norwegian mainland.
Mr Ruck, a travel writer who lives in Edinburgh, was hospitalised by the bear which killed Horatio Chapple, 17, during the rampage in August 2011 and left three others injured.
Speaking at an inquest in Salisbury, Mr Ruck described the moment he woke up in his tent and saw the polar bear before a colleague tried to shoot it with a rifle.
He said: “I woke up straight away and sat bolt upright, I then remember Spike [trip leader Michael Reid] or I opening the tent to see the polar bear there. I do not think it had anyone or anything in its mouth at that stage.”
He said that he then saw Mr Reid attempting to fire the rifle at the bear. He said: “He tried to fire the rifle four times, bullets emptied out. He shouted ‘It’s not working’ and then the bear came over to him and knocked him to the floor.
“After that I exited the tent through the other entrance. I just charged towards the bear, shouted and picked up rocks and threw them at its face.
“I remember the bear then attacked me and knocked me straight to the floor, its paws were on my shoulder, I remember seeing its face.
“It swiped my face with its claw and my head would have ended up in its mouth at some point. The bear left me for some reason but I had very few clear thoughts after that.
“I know I ended up not in the spot where it attacked me and ended up right next to Horatio. I must have been aware someone had been very badly injured and I think I was trying to help.”
Mr Ruck said that a decision had been made to use a tripwire system as an early warning alert that night and added that a bear watch would have had its own risks if it had been used instead.
He said: “Bear watches themselves carry considerable risk, they are absolutely not a foolproof system. They are open to human error.
“In 2002, I briefly fell asleep on a bear watch when I was 18 and I was a YE [young explorer]. No system is 100 per cent guaranteed to be reliable.”
He added: “Most encounters with polar bears are not fatal or even problematic. I am aware that the behaviour of our bear charging into the campsite is completely abnormal.”
Mr Ruck said that he was a late addition to the expedition team but had gained experienced by visiting the area as a YE with BSES in 2002 and underwent further training on arrival in Norway prior to the trip. The inquest continues.