A polar bear mauled to death a British teenager and severely injured four other Britons in an attack on a camp site in the Norwegian Arctic Friday before being shot and killed, officials said.

The bear attacked the camp site of four tents set up by 13 people on a nature expedition trip to the Svalbard archipelago organised by the British Schools Exploring Society early today.

‘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 16, 17, 27 and 29 years of age.

The Society named the dead boy as Horatio Chapple.

According to local media, the group was attacked while still in their tents.

The four people injured had all sustained ‘serious head injuries, but have been stabilised,’ Mr Alfheim said, adding that they were being airlifted to a hospital in Tromsoe, in the north of the Norwegian mainland.

The attack happened near the Von Post glacier in the Tempel Fjord, about 40km from the archipelago capital city Longyearbyen.

Police received a distress call from the campers, using a satellite phone, at around 7.30am (6.30am Irish time) and since there were no roads to the site of the attack, they quickly sent in helicopters.

The injured were initially taken to the small local hospital in Longyearbyen before being sent on to the mainland.

The eight remaining campers, between 16 and 20 years of age, who had not been physically injured, were being taken care of by ‘competent personnel’ in Longyearbyen, the district governor's office said.

The BSES, which organised the youth expedition, has contacted the families of those involved, the British embassy in Oslo said on its website, adding the British ambassador was ‘leading a consular team to Tromsoe to provide assistance.’

The Barents Sea area is home to around 3,000 polar bears, which is slightly more than the number of people living on Svalbard.

Polar bear attacks are not uncommon in the archipelago, and according to its unique signs warning about the animal it is illegal to leave a human settlement without carrying a gun.

It is however unusual for so many people to get hurt.