One of the world’s most storied shipwrecks, Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, has been discovered off the coast of Antarctica more than a century after its sinking.
Endurance was discovered at a depth of 3,008 metres (9,869 feet) in the Weddell Sea, 6km (4 miles) from where it was slowly crushed by pack ice in 1915.
“We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance,” said Mensun Bound, the expedition’s director of exploration, on Wednesday.
“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 was meant to make the first land crossing of Antarctica, but it fell victim to the tumultuous Weddell Sea.
Just east of the Larsen ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula, it became ensnared in sea ice for 10 months before being crushed and sinking.
‘Worst sea in the world’
Despite being stranded on the ice, the 28-man crew of the Endurance made it back home alive and theirs is considered one of the great survival stories of human history.
They trekked across the sea ice, living off seals and penguins, before setting sail in three lifeboats and reaching uninhabited Elephant Island.
From there, Shackleton and a handful of the crew rowed 1,300km (800 miles) on the lifeboat James Caird to South Georgia, where they sought help from a whaling station.
On his fourth rescue attempt, Shackleton managed to return to pick up the rest of the crew from Elephant Island in August 1916, two years after his expedition left London.
The explorers used underwater drones to find and film the shipwreck in the merciless Weddell Sea, which has a swirling current that sustains a mass of thick sea ice that can challenge even modern ice breakers.
Shackleton himself described the site of the sink as “the worst portion of the worst sea in the world”.
The region remains one of the most difficult parts of the ocean to navigate.
The underwater drones produced stunningly clear images of the 44 metre-long (144 foot) ship.
Amazingly, the helm has remained intact after more than a century under water, with gear piled against the taffrail as if Shackleton’s crew had only recently left it.
Sea anemones, sponges, and other small ocean life made homes on the wreckage but did not appear to have damaged it.
During the mission, the explorers also researched climate change, documenting ice drifts and weather patterns. The team is now returning to port in Cape Town.