A British explorer on an Antarctic mission to find Ernest Shackleton’s ship The Endurance claims the find would be ‘bigger than The Titanic’.
Maritime archaeologist Mensun Bound is on an icebreaker in the Weddell Sea, ploughing towards the Larsen C Ice Shelf.
It is the fourth largest ice shelf in the Antarctica where only a “handful of ships” have gone and will mark the first scientific investigation of the area.
Their mission is to find Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship which sunk in November 1915.
The British explorer wanted to be first to cross the Antarctic but the Endurance got lodged in thick ice.
“It got trapped in the ice, floated around with the ice for a little while and ultimately was crushed and sank,” Scott Polar Research Institute’s Museum Curator Charlotte Connelly told ITV News.
“So that left 28 men with three lifeboats, no one knew where they were, no one was going to come looking for them – they had to get themselves out of that mess.”
Somehow, six men survived but the wreckage has never been recovered.
Mr Bound fears the chances of finding the ship – sitting two miles below thick sea ice – are ‘heavily stacked against us’.
He told ITV News: “There are problems, the one that worries me the most, keeps me awake at night is ice coverage.
“Then we have to ask ourselves, how good is the position for the wreck? Can we find the wreck? We have Worlsey’s [explorer who served with Shackleton] recorded co-ordinates, but how good are they?
“Latitude is pretty sound, longitude, longitude worries me silly. It’s always longitude. And then, you know what, the sea is a very big place.”
He continued: “The equipment we are using is absolutely the finest and most sophisticated in the world but a thousand things could go wrong.
“The question is ‘can we launch and recover the search vehicle’ (and) can the equipment we have perform how we want it to?”
“The odds are heavily stacked against us… I’m not very confident. We’re stepping into the unknown.”
But the 65-year-old from Horspath, Oxfordshire, believes its discovery would be huge and lead him to retire after an impressive career in archaeology.
And voyage leader John Shears is said to be optimistic and excited to tell the pioneers’ “incredible story of survival and leadership”.
Mr Bound’s passion for the Endurance would make this mammoth find the stand-out moment in his career.
“I think after this I might just retire. Where do we go from here?”
Aboard the SA Aguilas II, the crew are breaking through 75 miles of ice to narrow the search area to ‘around 15 by six or seven nautical miles’.
“To start with, we’ve got to get there. This is huge, multi-layer ice (the thickest, most complicated) – it is going to be tough,” Mr Bound told the Oxford Mail.
“In my experience, the wrecks are not where they say they are.
“I have never known a challenge like this in my life.”
The SA Aguilas II is a 13,700-tonne vessel that can break through ‘8m thick’ ice and is ‘probably the world’s most able icebreaker’.
Mr Bound continued: “I have dreamed all my life of getting to the Endurance.
“I have a lot of experience (but) this is the absolute prize – finding it would be bigger than The Titanic.
“It’s the whole Shackleton cult – the story is the greatest escape there has ever been. From a historical point of view it is overwhelming.”
Mr Bound was born in the Falkland Islands and has family links to those on the famous voyage.
He said a picture of Captain Frank Worsley hung in his childhood home.
He added: “When Shackleton was in the Falklands, he actually stayed with my family.”
The ship is expecting to reach the target area later this week, where they will scan the seabed with robotic submarines.
If they stumble across any signs of the wreckage, they will deploy a more specialist remote operated vehicle (ROV).
They also have the option to use the drones and satellite image technology on board.
by James Gant and Harrison Jones