Found at last! Franklin ship lost for 166 years

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A sea-floor scan shows one of the two long-missing Franklin ships. The masts have been sheared off by ice over the many decades, but the vessel appears otherwise to be in relatively good condition. The image was unveiled by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  (Canada parks/CP)
A sea-floor scan shows one of the two long-missing Franklin ships. The masts have been sheared off by ice over the many decades, but the vessel appears otherwise to be in relatively good condition. The image was unveiled by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (Canada parks/CP)
The well-prepared ships left England in 1845 in search of the fabled Northwest Passage through the Arctic, to the Orient.
Erebus and Terror being towed carefully through ice. The mystery of the lost ships is solved to some degree with the finding on September 7 of one of the ships. It remains to be determined which of the two ships they have found. (J. Franklin Wright)
Erebus and Terror being towed carefully through ice. The mystery of the lost ships is solved to some degree with the finding on September 7 of one of the ships. It remains to be determined which of the two ships they have found. (J. Franklin Wright)

In England two years later it was determined something went wrong, and rescue missions sailed out in search of the expedition.

Although traces were found, the majority of the crew, Franklin himself, nor the ships were ever found, leading to one of the world’s greatest maritime mysteries.

Dozens of books, documentary films, and songs have been written.

Unexpected weather and luck

Canada has spent vast sums in the past few summers searching likely spots in the Arctic for the two ships

Today they met with success. And it was due to  a combination of luck and technology, and some unexpected weather and ice conditions.

The luck was that the massive search effort currently underway in a suspected area was unexpectedly blocked by ice, sending researchers off in a different area.

This was one where Inuit oral history had long suggested a ship had been trapped in ice. However, throughout the decades and century, not much credence had been given to Inuit “legend”

Map of the probable routes taken by Erebus and Terror during Franklin’s lost expedition. Disko Bay (5) to Beechey Island, in 1845. Around Cornwallis Island (1), in 1845. Beechey Island down Peel Sound between Prince of Wales Island (2) and Somerset Island (3) and the Boothia Peninsula (4) to near King William Island in 1846 The Ship was in fact found near King William Island.  (Wikimedia commons)
Map of the probable routes taken by Erebus and Terror during Franklin’s lost expedition. Disko Bay (5) to Beechey Island, in 1845. Around Cornwallis Island (1), in 1845. Beechey Island down Peel Sound between Prince of Wales Island (2) and Somerset Island (3) and the Boothia Peninsula (4) to near King William Island in 1846. The ship was in fact found near King William Island. (Wikimedia commons)

The scientists, temporarily forced away from the main search area, landed a helicopter on a small island near where Inuit legend said a ship had been seen. Then  the pilot, wandering the beach while scientists searched an old inuit campsite, spotted a heavy piece of iron.

Finding this relatively large, heavy piece of a ship’s davit led researchers to believe the ship itself was nearby. Stamped arrow symbols confirmed it was a British military item. (Douglas Stenton, Government of Nunavut)
Finding this relatively large, heavy piece of a ship’s davit led researchers to believe the ship itself was nearby. Stamped arrow symbols confirmed it was a British military item. (Douglas Stenton, Government of Nunavut)

Inuit had often carted away any iron pieces they came across finding things like nails extremely useful, but this large piece about 10kg, was soon determined to be a part of a davit used to lower a ships boat.

The scientists determined that being that heavy it couldn’t have been moved that far by water, ice, and probabley wasn’t useful to the Inuit. They felt the ship must be nearby.

Using sophisticated technology they searched the water nearby and finally located one of the two ships. A remote operated vehicle ( ROV) was sent below to capture images of the ship which appears to be in a relatively well preserved state.

The discovery is of such significance to Canada, and to Britain, and in the history of exploration, that Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was the one to make the announcement of the find at a news conference today.

The exact location is being kept secret for now to avoid any ship traffic and potential damage to the ship or loss of historic artefacts.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada to launch new search for Arctic shipwreck, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: WWF Finland concerned about oil leak from shipwreck in Baltic Sea, Yle News

Norway: Norway returns Inuit artifacts to Arctic Canadian community, CBC News

United States:  IDs made in 1952 Alaska plane crash, Alaska Dispatch

 

 

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Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

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