The SA Agulhas II (Image provided: The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)
- A groundbreaking expedition to cross Antarctica was abandoned in 1915, when the iconic ship was crushed by pack ice and sank to the bottom of the Weddell Sea.
- Today, a team of polar researchers and explorers set out to find Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, believed to be the last relic of the “heroic age of Antarctic exploration”.
- The Endurance22 expedition will depart from Cape Town on Saturday, using the SA Agulhas II to complete the perilous journey.
- A South African helicopter company will provide two helicopters, which will drop remotely operated underwater vehicles tasked with locating the Endurance.
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More than a century ago, an iconic expedition ship sank off the coast of Antarctica. Now a team aboard the SA Agulhas II, with the support of a South African helicopter company, is setting out to find the Endurance.
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 was to be the first overland crossing of the White Continent, closely following the groundbreaking South Pole Expedition three years earlier. The plan was to cross nearly 3,000 km of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea via the South Pole to the Ross Sea.
Sir Ernest Shackleton, a revered explorer who had served on two previous Antarctic tours, planned and would eventually lead the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The Endurance, a sailing and steam vessel built in 1912, carried Shackleton and his 27-man crew to South Georgia, an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean, about 1,500 km east of the islands Falkland, in November 1914.
But the Endurance ran into trouble almost immediately after leaving South Georgia en route to the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. Thick pack ice, much further north than expected, forced the Endurance to maneuver and progress became slow.
By late February 1915, the now adrift Endurance was inextricably stuck in the pack ice, the pressure slowly crushing the ship. Eight months later, after a dismal winter and the ever-increasing pressure of the surrounding ice on the ship’s hull, Shackleton ordered his crew to abandon the Endurance.
The ship sank nearly 3,000 meters in the dark Weddell Sea. Although the crew survived, the Endurance’s exact location remains unknown.
This is what the Endurance22 Expedition, which leaves Cape Town on February 5, hopes to discover, 107 years later.
The expedition to find the Endurance, the latest uncovered relic of the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration”, was organized by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. A team of more than 65 members will search for the sunken vessel using SAAB Sabertooth remotely operated underwater vehicles, which can travel up to 160 kilometers from their launch location.
South Africa will play a key role in this expedition.
The SA Agulhas II, an icebreaker polar research and supply vessel belonging to the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has been chartered for the expedition, which is expected to last 35 days, according to the National Antarctic Program South -African (SANAP). .
The 13,687 ton vessel, equipped with laboratories, bunkers and a helipad, was handed over to the department in 2012. Since then the SA Agulhas II has made several trips to Marion Island, Gough Island and the 4,000 km journey to Station SANAE IV in Antarctica.
The SA Agulhas II will be commanded by Knowledge Bengu on her next Weddell Sea expedition leaving Cape Town on Saturday.
Helicopter support services for the Endurance 22 expedition will be provided by a South African company, Ultimate Heli, which has over 800 hours of flying experience in Antarctica.
Ultimate HELI will deploy a Bell 412EP helicopter and a contracted specialist Kaman K-Max under-suspended load helicopter, which will fly between the SA Agulhas II and the Weddell Sea, deploying the SAAB Sabertooths.
“This is our eighth consecutive season in Antarctica. In addition to providing annual helicopter support to various national programs in Antarctica, we are proud to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime expedition,” said Shaun Roseveare, CEO of Ultimate. HELI.
“Our ability to deploy two types of helicopters and specialist crews on this unique expedition is the culmination of our years and years of experience in Antarctica. We wish the team members all the best in the search for the Endurance.”
(Compiled by Luke Daniel)