It’s one of the greatest sea stories of all time. How Ernest Shackleton, the British explorer, organized the survival and ultimate rescue of the 28-man crew on the Endurance after it was trapped in ice in Antarctica and sank in 1915. Now a team of British scientists is looking for the wreckage while carrying out climate change research there.
The S.A. Agulhas II is now cruising toward the Larsen C Ice Shelf, the fourth largest in Antarctica. They hope to put an autonomous underwater vessel under the ice there to measure the shelf’s consistency and thickness. They also hope to find the remains of the Endurance. One of Shackleton’s crew recorded the coordinates where the Endurance sank, but no one knows how accurate they are, or if the ship has moved in the intervening century.
“The latitude is pretty sound,” Mensun Bound, the scientist whose job is to find the Endurance, told ITV News. “Longitude, longitude worries me silly. It’s always longitude. And then, you know what, the sea is a very big place.”
The Endurance, a 144-feet-long, three-masted, 348-ton wooden ship, left London on Aug. 1, 1914. Shackleton wanted to cross Antarctica, but the ship got trapped in ice in the Weddell ice pack in January, 1915. The crew stayed on the boat until ice cracked the hull and Shackleton ordered them to abandon ship in October.
The men then camped out on ice floes until the next April, when they took three lifeboats to Elephant Island, the nearest land. It took them a week to reach the island, which was inhabited only by penguins and elephant seals.
A week later Shackleton and five other men climbed in a 20-foot lifeboat to seek help from a whaling station on South Georgia Island, some 720 nm away. In an incredible feat of navigation, they landed on a remote shore on South Georgia three weeks later, but then Shackleton and one other crewman had to climb 36 hours over a snowy mountain range to reach the whaling station.
He ultimately returned to Elephant Island on a Chilean tug to rescue all 22 men there four and a half months later. Every man who had left London with Shackleton was safe. Read more: