One of the most storied shipwrecks in maritime history has been found off the coast of Antarctica — some 107 years after explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s vessel was crushed by ice and sank to the bottom of the sea.
Organizers of the two-week expedition announced the historic find of the Endurance Wednesday at a depth of more than 9,800 feet in the Weddell Sea after the 144-foot wooden ship sank in 1915. The wreck, which is incredibly well-preserved, will be studied and filmed, but not disturbed, researchers said.
“This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen,” said Mensun Bound, director of exploration at the Falklands Maritme Heritage Trust, which spearheaded the expedition. “It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation.”
Photos show the ship’s name “Endurance” clearly visible above a star on its stern, while other showed a rear deck and its wheel.
“This is a milestone in polar history,” Bound said in a statement. “We hope our discovery will engage young people and inspire them with the pioneering spirit, courage and fortitude of those who sailed Endurance to Antarctica.”
The shipwreck was discovered by the Endurance22 team using underwater drones some four miles away from its last known position recorded by its captain, Frank Worsley, researchers said. Those detailed records were pivotal to the “monumental” find, Bound said.
“It’s beautiful,” Bound told NBC News. “It just doesn’t get any better.”
The extremely cold waters of the Weddell Sea likely led to the ship’s near-pristine condition since no “wood-eating microbes and microorganisms” were viable at that temperature, a British historian told NBC News.
“It is super cold,” historian Dan Snow said. “It’s probably just below zero.”
In late 1914, Irish-British explorer Shackleton set out to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea via the South Pole. But Endurance never reached land and got trapped in densely packed ice, forcing all 28 men on board to abandon ship.
The crew ultimately used lifeboats to reach the uninhabited Elephant Island after spending months in makeshift camps on ice floes, researchers said.
The wreck, which was discovered 100 years after Shackleton’s death, is protected as a historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty.
“The Endurance22 expedition has reached its goal,” Dr. John Shears, who led the underwater odyssey, said in a statement. “We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search.”