Explorers Discover Ship On Which Polar Explorer Shackleton Made Final Voyage

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John Oyewale Contributor
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An international team of experts late Sunday found the polar expedition ship on which the famous Anglo-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton made his final voyage, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) announced Wednesday.

“A Royal Canadian Geographical Society-led expedition has discovered the wreck of the famed exploration vessel Quest in the Labrador Sea,” the RCGS said via a statement.

The search party found the Quest at 7:41 p.m. Newfoundland time (6:11 p.m. EST) Jun. 9, nearly 18 hours after the search proper began, the statement revealed. The ship was found about 2.5 kilometers (about 1.55 miles) from its last reported position, according to the statement. The ship reportedly sank 62 years ago, on May 5, 1962, following a monthslong persistent leak and an April 1, 1962 accident involving icebergs on the Labrador Sea.

The search party endured mechanical issues while aboard their search vessel LeeWay Odyssey—just as Shackleton did while aboard the Quest—and were racing against time when they arrived at the 24-square-nautical-mile search area, the RCGS said.

John Geiger, expedition leader and CEO of RCGS, was “watching the sonar images scroll in from the virtually featureless sea floor, when suddenly a jarring anomaly, about the size of a grain of rice with a shadow like a spear, appeared at the very nadir of the image. ‘What’s that?’ he shouted. ‘That’s it!'” the statement revealed.

They found the wreck upright and intact on the seabed in 390 meters (about 1279.5 feet) of water northwest of St. John’s and east of Battle Harbour, Labrador, according to the statement. St. John’s is the capital of Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador province. (RELATED: Scientists Discover Unfathomably Large Blue Hole, And The Photos Are Epic)

The search team included world-famous shipwreck hunter and marine biologist David Mearns, who mapped the search area but was asleep at the time of the find.

“I almost fell on the staircase twice, and I just burst into the room and said ‘David, David, you’ve got to come up right now. I think we’ve got it!'” lead researcher Antoine Normandin—who also had been monitoring the sonar images via a monitor—reportedly said. Both men had conducted the monthslong “painstaking research and analysis” that led to the discovery, the statement noted.

“I can definitively confirm that we have found the wreck of Quest,” Mearns later said, according to the statement. “Data from high resolution side-scan sonar imagery corresponds exactly with the known dimensions and structural features of this special ship, and is also consistent with events at the time of the sinking.”

“Finding Quest is one of the final chapters in the extraordinary story of Sir Ernest Shackleton,” said Geiger, according to the statement. “Shackleton was known for his courage and brilliance as a leader in times of crisis. The tragic irony is that his was the only death to take place on any of the ships under his direct command.”

Shackleton‘s granddaughter, Hon. Alexandra Shackleton—also one of the search’s co-patrons—was one of the first to be informed of the find. She described finding the Quest in the same year in which she unveiled a memorial plaque inside the U.K.’s Westminster Abbey on the 150th anniversary of Shackleton’s birth as a thrill, according to the statement. The commemorative plaque was unveiled Feb. 15, according to a statement from the Westminster Abbey’s website.

Shackleton died aged 47 of a massive heart attack early Jan. 5, 1922, while aboard the Quest. The vessel was anchored at Grytviken Harbour on South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic at the time of Shackleton’s death. He died 110 days after setting forth from London Sept. 17, 1921.

Shackleton had originally set forth to explore the Canadian Arctic but headed to Antarctica at the eleventh hour when the Canadian government of then-Prime Minister Arthur Meighen withdrew support, the RCGS said.

Shackleton had eerily said before the voyage that it would be his “swan song”. He was buried on South Georgia Island at the request of his wife Emily, the source of the ship’s name, according to the RCGS.

Shackleton’s most famous act was overseeing his entire crew’s survival when another ship of his, Endurance, sank while attempting to traverse the length of continental Antarctica. He was a key figure in the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, the Westminster Abbey’s statement noted.