IT is the greatest wreck find since the Titanic.
More than a century after it sank, the strikingly well-preserved remains of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship has been discovered two miles down under the Antarctic ice.
Shackleton’s HMS Endurance is the greatest wreck find since the Titanic
The ship has been discovered two miles down under the Antarctic ice
The gold nameplate “Endurance” shines eerily from the blue-black darkness, while the woodwork gleams and the wheel remains intact — despite sitting 3,000m (10,000ft) down in the Weddell Sea for 38,821 days.
The discovery of the 144ft long, three-masted wooden vessel — which got trapped in the ice for ten months before finally sinking in November 1915 — is a triumph for the British-led expedition who set out to find it.
The hand-picked, 60-strong team on board the Endurance22 voyage included TV historian Dan Snow and marine biologist Mensun Bound, described as the Indiana Jones of shipwreck hunters.
He said: “We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance.
“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, directly below the taffrail. This is a milestone in polar history.”
Mensun had been part of a 2019 attempt to find the vessel, which ended in failure. And with five days of the latest expedition to go, it seemed the ship would evade detection once more.
Historian Dan told The Sun last night: “Finding shipwrecks is notoriously difficult, finding ship-wrecks under two metres of sea ice is nearly impossible.
“Our ship Agulhas II had special ice-breaking capabilities.
“Then we had to deploy equipment in temperatures of almost minus 35.
“There was mechanical failure — it would have to be fixed with screwdrivers, spanners and laptops, and the team worked night and day through blizzards and storms.”
Endurance’s legend continued to grow after it sank in 1915 thanks to the incredible courage displayed by Shackleton in getting all of his 27-man crew to safety.
The men, who had been attempting to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent, had to camp on ice floes for five months, before sailing lifeboats to Elephant Island.
From there, Shackleton and five others sailed 800 miles through the hurricanes of the Southern Ocean in a lifeboat the size of a dinghy, before crossing South Georgia’s ice shelf and mountains to raise the alarm. The rest of his crew were rescued within months.
After a century on the seabed, Endurance was found on Saturday — 100 years to the day after the funeral of Shackleton, who died aged 47 on a later expedition to Antarctica.
Dan, who has a podcast about the search on his History Hit website, said: “I have been lucky enough to work on amazing TV shows for 20 years but I’ve never seen anything like it.
“It hits you in the guts to be part of something so special.
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, directly below the taffrail. This is a milestone in polar history.
TV historian Dan Snow
“I had a feeling of awe. It was so brilliantly preserved, it was everything I dreamed of.”
His expedition colleague Mensun grew up on the Falkland Islands and was a driver for Shackleton’s son Edward when he visited the British archipelago.
His 2019 attempt to locate the Endurance foundered when the unmanned sub sent down to locate it got trapped under the ice.
This time he went back with two specially built, Saab-made submersibles — with a two-mile long “fibre-optic tether” — so that they could not go missing.
The Sabertooth autonomous underwater vehicles can map the ocean floor up to depths of 13,000ft and send back data in real time.
The scientists had a good idea of where to look because Endurance’s captain Frank Worsley had carefully recorded its last position when it slipped beneath the ice floes on November 21, 1915.
He only had old navigational methods and the positions of stars to guide him, but his measurements turned out to be remarkably accurate — with Endurance found just four nautical miles from his prediction.
But minus 35 temperatures threatened to upend the Endurance22 expedition.
On February 20 the crew were celebrating when an acoustic signature suggested the underwater drones had found the ship.
But it turned out to just be other bits of wreckage.
I have been lucky enough to work on amazing TV shows for 20 years but I’ve never seen anything like it. It hits you in the guts to be part of something so special. I had a feeling of awe. It was so brilliantly preserved, it was everything I dreamed of.
TV historian Dan Snow
The following day the Agulhas II got trapped in the ice, just like Endurance had a century earlier.
Even with the engines in full reverse the hi-tech ship would not dislodge.
It required a crane and a barrel of fuel to help crack the ice enough around the huge vessel so it could break free.
While the ice has decreased dramatically over the past five years — which scientists put down to climate change — there is still pack ice several miles across which can halt the strongest vessel.
And the team knew the clock was ticking on their expedition.
Dan explained: “We were almost running out of time. It is summer here, although it doesn’t feel very summery. We were there when the ice was at its least.”
On the afternoon of March 6, the underwater vehicles’ cameras sent back images of what was undoubtedly Shackleton’s ship. Excitement and relief swept around the Agulhas II.
The footage showed a hull mostly intact. The masts were down, but the anchors were still there — and boots and crockery were even spotted among wreckage.
Dan said: “I knew immediately this was going to be the highlight of my career.”
One reason the Endurance’s condition is so pristine is that the ocean current flowing around Antarctica is a barrier to deep-sea worms, which would normally eat away at timber.
A lack of sediment in the area means that the wreck is not covered in the dregs of the ocean and the water is crystal clear, ensuring great video footage.
The expedition was carried out for The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust.
Endurance is now protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty and the underwater drones were not allowed to touch the wreck.
Like the Titanic, it will remain in its resting place.
Trapped… but no man left behind
IT was the incredible heroism of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton that transformed Endurance into a treasure that must be found.
Shackleton, who was born in Ireland and grew up in South London, had already been knighted for his achievements in Antarctica before setting out to cross the continent from the Weddell Sea in 1914.
But his ship got stuck in ice on January 19, 1915. It sank ten months later.
The crew camped in the freezing temperatures on the ice before using lifeboats to reach the uninhabited Elephant Island in April 1916.
Historian Dan Snow says: “It’s the greatest survival and escape story of all time.
“Men started falling into the ice cracks, then he got them into lifeboats.
“Suffering from frostbite, they then made a perilous journey, pushed to such desperation one of them had a heart attack. They miraculously made it to Elephant Island, this tiny scrap of land.”
Leaving most of the crew there, Shackleton and five of his men sailed across the Southern Ocean to find help.
Dan says: “They sailed in this small boat, really a dinghy, over the roughest sea on earth for 800 miles.
“He was fighting against the wind and the snow, but he never left a man behind. He gave others his last pair of socks and last hit of drink.”
Having found a ship on the Falkland Islands, it took Shackleton four attempts to rescue all his men still stranded.
But that was not even his last mission. During an attempt to circumnavigate the Antarctic on January 5, 1922, he died of a heart attack aged 47.
TV historian Dan Snow said: ‘This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen’
Like the Titanic, Endurance will remain in its resting place
The wreck has sat 3,000m (10,000ft) down in the Weddell Sea for 38,821 days
Endurance’s legend continued to grow after it sank in 1915 thanks to the incredible courage displayed by Shackleton
The 60-strong team on board the Endurance22 voyage were hand-picked
The woodwork gleams and the wheel remains intact
Dan added: ‘This is a milestone in polar history’
Endurance was found on Saturday — 100 years to the day after the funeral of Shackleton
Dan Snow said: ‘Our ship Agulhas II had special ice-breaking capabilities’