JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Explorers have found one of the most famous shipwrecks in history, Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, deep in the icy sea off Antarctica more than a century after it sank, they announced yesterday.
Endurance was discovered at a depth of 3,008 metres in the Weddell Sea, about six kilometres from where it was slowly crushed by pack ice in 1915.
Shackleton went down in expeditionary legend through the epic escape he and his 27 companions then made, on foot and in boats.
“We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance,” said the expedition’s director of exploration Mensun Bound.
“This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern,” he said in a statement.
The expedition, organised by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, left Cape Town on February 5 with a South African icebreaker, hoping to find the Endurance before the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer.
As part of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition between 1914 and 1917, Endurance’s crew was meant to make the first land crossing of Antarctica.
But their three-masted sailship fell victim to the tumultuous Weddell Sea.
Just east of the Larsen ice shelves on the Antarctic peninsula, the timber vessel became ensnared in pack ice in January 1915.
It was progressively crushed and then sank 10 months later.
The crew first camped on the sea ice, drifting northwards until the ice cracked open, and then took to lifeboats.
They sailed first to Elephant Island, a bleak and treeless place where most of the men were dropped off and set up a camp.
Using just a sextant for navigation, Shackleton then took five others in the strongest and most seaworthy boat on a 1,300-kilometre voyage to South Georgia, a British colony where there was a whaling station.
Defying mountainous seas and freezing temperatures, the 17-day trek aboard the 6.9-metre open boat is often considered one of the most remarkable achievements in maritime history.