Polar Bear
A polar bear killed one and severely injured four others on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. REUTERS

A polar bear attacked a British group of tourists on vacation in Norway, killing one and severely injuring four others, local officials said Friday.

The five were camping in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard at the Von Postbreen glacier, a statement on the Svalbard governor's website said. The tourists were reportedly looking for food on the glacier when the attack occurred.

The incident involved a group connected with the British Schools Exploring Society, which is based out of Kensington, west London.

"It was an organized group. They had a camp set up and this attack happened in the camp," the deputy governor Lars Erik Alfheim told Sky News.

A spokesman for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said:

"Our embassy in Oslo is urgently looking into reports of an incident in northern Norway."

The injured tourists alerted authorities by satellite phone at 7:30 a.m. on Friday and were airlifted about 25 miles (40k) away to Longyearbyen for treatment in Svalbard's largest settlement, the statement on the governor's website said. They will be flown to a larger hospital in the northern Norwegian city of Tromso Friday afternoon.

According to the statement, the polar bear has been killed.

"We got a call via satellite phone from a British group of campers that there had been a polar bear attack and that one person was dead and that others were injured and they needed assistance.

"There are no roads in the area of the Von Postbreen glacier where the incident happened, so we scrambled a helicopter," Liv Asta Odegaard, a spokeswoman for the governor of Svalbard, said in a statement.

She added that the five were travelling with a "British group" but could not provide any specific details about the tourists' nationalities.

Odegaard described the survivors' injuries as "extremely serious." All are reportedly males between the ages of 16 and 23-years-old.

Earlier in the year, a notice was posted on the governor's website warning of polar bear sightings near Longyearbyen, asking people who spotted the bears to telephone a special number.

Dwindling se ice in the arctic has forced many polar bears to stray further afield, looking inland for food.

Liv Rose Flygel, an artist and airport worker who lives near the hospital in Longyearbyen, told the Guardian:

"Last summer a man was attacked by a polar bear and there have also been attacks on a man from Austria and a girl. Only the man in the attack last summer survived.

"He was taken in the mouth of the bear and his friend ran after it and shot it.

"The problem is when the ice goes the bears lose their way and cannot catch food.

"People don't really know how dangerous they are; one came down to the sea recently and people were running down to take pictures."

Purposefully seeking out or disturbing polar bears is an offence under local laws, punishable by a fine or even jail time.

The rugged glacial island of Spitsbergen, where the incident occurred, attracts swaths of well-heeled tourists in the summer months who flock to this remote destination to witness the spectacular midnight sun, view abandoned Soviet mining communities, and bask in the wilderness scenery. Visitors are urged to bring high-powered rifles when exploring the remote region.