Storied Arctic wrecks still missing after summer search

HMS Investigator - Handout, Calgary Herald

By Randy Boswell - Postmedia News


Canadian government scientists hoping for a second major Arctic shipwreck discovery this summer came up empty after a six-day search for the Terror and Erebus, the lost vessels of the 19th-century Franklin Expedition.

Parks Canada archeologist Ryan Harris, who led July's successful search for the wreck of the HMS Investigator — one of many British ships sent to look for the Terror and Erebus in the 1850s — said Monday a 150-square-kilometre sweep of the Queen Maud Gulf seabed near Nunavut's O'Reilly Island yielded no sign of the ill-fated vessels.

Last month's discovery of the Investigator, found at the bottom of Mercy Bay off Northwest Territories' Banks Island, had fuelled hoped that the Terror or Erebus — long viewed as Holy Grails of global marine archeology — might finally be found as well.

But Harris and Marc-Andre Bernier, Parks Canada's director of underwater archeology, said this summer's search — along with a previous probe in 2008 — has at least narrowed the hunt for the ships to a 150-sq.-km area on the northeast side of O'Reilly Island, located between mainland Nunavut and King William Island.

A third season of searching is expected to take place in 2011.

"I'm always disappointed if we don't find something," Harris said during a conference call with reporters.

But asked if he believes the Franklin ships will eventually be found, he said: "I'm fairly confident they will be."

The federal officials emphasized that although no wrecks were found this summer, the probe has provided important new information to help various government agencies map the Arctic Ocean sea floor in an area where little survey work had been done in the past.

"We learned a lot about the underwater topography of this area," Harris said.

He and Bernier also said that it was always expected to take three research seasons to scan the entire target area and that the team remains on schedule to complete the mission — and possibly discover one of the ships — next year.

"We are confident that neither of the wrecks lies in the area scanned to date," Harris said.

The search area was identified based on conflicting contemporary reports about where the Franklin ships went down.


Canada Franklin expedition Labrador Sir John Franklin Erebus and Terror Grenier Strait of Belle Isle