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Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship found a century later, nearly 10,000 feet under the Antarctic ice

The ship, experts said, is looking surprisingly good despite it all.

The wreckage of explorer Ernest Shackleton's ship "Endurance," which was crushed by Antarctic ice in 1915, has been found, a team searching for it said March 9. (Video: Reuters)
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The Endurance, one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks, has been found off the coast of Antarctica more than 100 years after the vessel was slowly crushed by ice, forcing the British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew eventually to abandon the ship before it sank.

The 144-foot wooden vessel was discovered almost 10,000 feet below the surface of the Weddell Sea during a mission to find the missing ship.

A team of more than 65 people — including ice experts — made up the expedition named “Endurance 22.” The team confirmed the discovery Wednesday after weeks of searching in freezing temperatures for the wreckage. The story of the crew’s survival after fleeing the sinking ship is considered one of the most gripping tales of polar exploration.

“We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search,” the veteran geographer John Shears, who led the mission, said in a statement shared to Twitter.

The expedition set off from Cape Town, South Africa, in February to mark the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s death. The team’s goal was to find the wreck, using drones and specialist equipment including submarines, helicopters and robots.

Team members said they based their search on the last known position of the ship, as recorded in 1915 by the ship’s captain, Frank Worsley. The vessel was found about four miles south of its last logged position — coordinates which were found in Worsley’s diary: 68°39’ 30”S, 52°26’30”W.

In a statement, Mensun Bound, the director of exploration on the expedition, paid tribute to Worsley’s navigational skills. His “detailed records were invaluable in our quest to locate the wreck,” Bound said.

Bound said the wreck was “upright ... intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation.”

British historian Dan Snow said in a video published by the BBC that there was an “overwhelming sense of happiness and relief” among the crew when they learned that the vessel had been found with the use of specialist equipment including submarines. It was literally “frozen in time,” he said.

Footage taken at the scene showed the paint is still visible, along with the ship’s name “ENDURANCE” above a star on the hull. The stern, wheel, bow and deck were also visible.

Before the ship sank, Shackleton and 27 crew members were headed to a bay in the Weddell Sea, where they hoped they would kick-start the first crossing on foot of Antarctica via the South Pole to the Ross Sea.

The Weddell Sea is known for its dangerous, icy conditions, which has made searches for the ship difficult, the BBC reported. Sea ice has since reached its lowest level ever recorded, making conditions for the search more favorable.

Shackleton himself described the location as “the worst portion of the worst sea in the world,” the Guardian reported.

“Nothing was touched on the wreck,” Snow said, calling the mission the “greatest experience” of his career.

“It is protected by the Antarctic Treaty,” Snow explained, adding that the team did not “wish to tamper with it.”

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty declared the site of the Endurance a historical monument.

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