Search Is On for the 'Most Unreachable Wreck'

Team heads to Weddell Sea to find Ernest Shackleton's 'Endurance'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2022 10:40 AM CST
Search Is On for the 'Most Unreachable Wreck'
A photograph of the Endurance stuck in ice in the Weddell Sea.   (Wikimedia Commons/Underwood & Underwood)

Ernest Shackleton set off for Antarctica in 1914, hoping to be the first person to cross the frozen continent. He didn't even get to try. In early 1915, his ship Endurance became stuck in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, about 100 miles from Vahsel Bay, before sinking to a depth of 10,000 feet. That Shackleton and his crew of 27 survived only added to the allure of what has become one of the most famous shipwrecks in history, per the New York Times. And it's thanks to their efforts that, more than a century later, a crew is launching an ambitious search to find the ship. Shackleton noted the 144-foot-long Endurance sank in "the worst portion of the worst sea." As Endurance22 director Mensun Bound tells the Times, "it's the most unreachable wreck ever, which makes this the greatest wreck hunt of all time."

Setting off Saturday from Cape Town, the expedition team will travel in a South African ice breaker to a zone in the western Weddell logged by Endurance's captain and navigator. "We're very optimistic that we'll get over the wreck site with the ship," says John Shears, leader of the expedition made possible by a private donation of more than $10 million. Yet other expeditions have failed, even when pack ice isn't especially heavy, as is the case now. An autonomous underwater vehicle was lost after a nearly 30-hour dive during a 2019 search—as was its scan data, which had to be physically removed from the unit. This time, the team plans to use two underwater drones connected to the surface by a fiber-optic cable, allowing images to be viewed in real time.

If the site can't be reached by ship, the team may instead launch the submersibles from an ice floe, per the Times. But this plan would require choosing an ice floe that's expected to be in the right location days down the road, given the time it would take to set up camp. The sea is unpredictable, and the clock will be ticking. Though researchers will be at sea for at least 35 days, per the Independent, the Times reports they'll have less than two weeks to actually find and survey the ship. "We very much hope we can do justice to this magnificent chapter in polar exploration, by capturing images of Shackleton's iconic Endurance to share with the world," Bound says, per the Independent. "We will do everything in our power to shine further light on this inspiring story." (More Antarctica stories.)

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