Nova (1974–…): Season 42, Episode 14 - Arctic Ghost Ship - full transcript

160 years ago, the Franklin Expedition to chart the Northwest Passage vanished. NOVA is on board as a Canadian team makes a breakthrough discovery of one of Franklin's lost ships--a vital new clue to the fate of the ill-starred expedition.

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It's the most ambitious
expedition of its day

In 1845, British
explorer Sir John Franklin

heads into the frozen
wilderness of the Arctic

to conquer the fabled
shortcut to the Orient:

the Northwest Passage

But this grand expedition
would never return home

There is no story in the
history of British exploration

that ends as tragically as this

129 men disappear
off the face of the earth

Again and again,

searchers ventured
into this icy wasteland,



an effort that
continues to this day

Over time, a meager
trail of clues emerged

Hints of illness, starvation,
even cannibalism

But no sign of
Franklin's two ships

What happened to them?

This maddening mystery has
remained unsolved for 170 years

But now, archaeologists
are mounting

a far-reaching modern
search for Franklin's lost ships

Ships don't just disappear

If there is a Franklin
expedition ship,

we will find that ship

Combining
21st-century technology

with previously dismissed
eyewitness accounts,

they make an astonishing find



Jabbed my finger
right at the screen

and kind of lunged
for it and said,

"That's it, that's it!"

This amazing
journey into the Arctic

could solve a mystery
170 years in the making

and rewrite the
history of exploration

Search for the "Arctic Ghost
Ship," right now on NOVA.

The Canadian Arctic

As the summer of
2014 comes to an end

the ice is closing in

Working from icebreakers,
a team of wreck hunters

is scouring the ocean floor
with their sonar equipment

They're searching for two ships

believed to have sunk
in these frozen waters

in the 19th century

This high-tech
mission is only the latest

in a long history
of failed attempts

to solve a perplexing mystery

What happened to the British
explorer Sir John Franklin

and his crew of 128 fine sailors

when they sailed two
heavily fortified ships

into this Arctic wasteland

and then vanished off
the face of the earth?

That question has gone
unanswered for 170 years

And now, after
weeks of searching,

yet another effort,
like all those before it,

seems on the verge of failure

Are you worried about
that ice coming in?

That's not good

In just days, these seas
could freeze over completely

Are you going to stop it?

Yeah

So, let's head back
towards the ship

Their window is closing

The mystery has
its origins in 1845,

as two great ships leave
England on a historic quest

to map the fabled
Northwest Passage

European traders
had long understood

that the most direct route
to the Orient lay to the west,

if only they could find a
way over the Americas

Why not go over the top?

The world narrows as you go up

Go across the top
of North America

And so the idea was to find

what they called the
Northwest Passage

The approaches from
both the Atlantic and Pacific

were already surveyed

But in between, the charts
showed a mysterious gap,

an area that had defied
explorers for centuries

So in 1845, Sir John Franklin
set out to find once and for all

whether the gap could be bridged

and to claim the passage
for the British Empire

The fact that there's an
empty space on the chart,

a terra incognita,

that's both appealing,
but also an insult

to the British Navy

They need to fill in
the lines on the map

There's power in the ink
lines that are drawn on charts

It's ownership

It's sovereignty

It's politics

To conquer the
Northwest Passage,

the Navy put together
the best equipped

Arctic expedition
there had ever been

Sir John Franklin, a
veteran of the Arctic,

was chosen to lead

Sir John Franklin was
one of the two or three

outstanding polar navigators

of the first half of
the 19th century

He combined experience,
scientific expertise,

and a proven track
record as a leader of men

59-year-old Franklin had led
two previous Arctic expeditions

to survey the coastline of
the North American mainland

During one trip,
when supplies ran low,

the crew had to eat
anything they could to survive,

and Franklin became
affectionately known

as "the man who
ate his own boots"

This time, he was
better prepared

He and his crew of 128 men

sailed on two specially
adapted former warships:

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

These young men had
left behind their loved ones

in pursuit of the greatest
prize in Arctic exploration

They knew the ships
would encounter ice,

so the hulls were
strengthened with oak planking

up to eight feet thick and
reinforced with iron plate

Plans from the National
Maritime Museum in London

show they were also
fitted with innovations

such as coal-powered
steam propulsion,

a retractable propeller,
and even central heating

The ships were stocked with
three years of food rations,

a library,

even musical instruments
to help pass the time

They were better equipped
than any previous expedition

But how prepared
could they really be

for a world about which
they knew so little?

It was very much

the dark side of the moon

as far as the Victorians
were concerned

It was somewhere
that had fascinated men

for hundreds of years,

but they'd never
mastered the environment

In July 1845, a whaling
ship recorded a final sighting

of the expedition in Baffin
Bay, west of Greenland

From there, they
sailed into oblivion

In the 170 years since then,

despite scores of
well-equipped search attempts,

only a few meager
clues have been found,

and no trace of the ships

In 2014, a crack
team of wreck hunters

embarks on a fresh search

Writer and historian John Geiger

has been obsessed with
the mystery for decades

To him, this is a
once-in-a-lifetime chance

to lay the ghosts of the
Franklin expedition to rest

Been involved in one way
or another with Franklin

since my 20s

It's the greatest mystery
in exploration history

There's nothing
that compares with it

It's really important from
a historical standpoint

to understand what
happened to them

Only by finding the wrecks

can crucial questions
be answered

Exactly why did
the expedition fail?

And how far through the
Northwest Passage did they get?

It won't be easy

The wrecks remain lost,

largely because
searching these icy waters

is such a difficult
and dangerous task

In recent years, the government
of Canada and its partners

have mounted
several expeditions,

deploying icebreakers
and sonar equipment

to hunt down the wrecks

But these costly missions
have another purpose

As global warming melts the ice,

interest in extracting the
Arctic's natural resources

will likely grow

These surveys will allow
safer navigation here

in the years to come

These vessels host
a diverse taskforce

led by the underwater
archaeology team

of Parks Canada

This is actually our
sixth field season

searching for
Franklin's lost ships

We're hoping that there's
going to be a payday

down the road here

Despite the calm exterior,

the team is desperate
for a breakthrough

In the last six years,
they've searched

close to 500 square miles
of seafloor and found nothing

They have two key search zones

One, in the north,

is based on clues found
by earlier search parties

Further south, a second zone
is based on sightings of a ship

preserved in the oral history
of local Inuit populations

But even after six years,

there's still a huge
area to search

In the north, sea ice often
lingers through the summer,

so plenty of this area
remains unsurveyed

This year, they
hope to put that right

We're looking in the very place

where Erebus and
Terror were last reported

by the men who
sailed those ships

You know, if you lose your keys,

you generally go
back and look for them

in the last place you
remember seeing them

By combining the last
known position of the ships

with information on
prevailing currents,

the team has drawn up
a northern search zone

of some 540 square miles

So how will they search such
a huge expanse of seafloor

during the brief Arctic summer?

This year, for the first time,
they have a secret weapon

It's basically an
unmanned torpedo

that we can deploy
pre-programmed

and it will literally
go out in the sea,

follow the route that
we've asked it to follow,

gather data, and come
back with that data

This is the Arctic Explorer,

a precision piece
of military hardware

that uses sonar to scan
a square mile of seafloor

in just an hour

The sonar itself,

which is an acoustic system,

that will send a signal to
the bottom and recapture it

to give a picture of
what's on the bottom

It produces images like this,

showing the seafloor
in incredible detail

Any sign of a ship would
show up immediately

But if there's any hint of
ice, the team will have to pull

this delicate instrument
out of the water

The last thing they need

is to lose their
best search vehicle

For the first two
weeks of the search,

drifting ice floes
have prevented them

from deploying
the Arctic Explorer

But their luck may
be about to change

We're seeing a growing
surface area of open water

A small window in the
ice is an opportunity

to deploy the Arctic
Explorer for the first time

It's a risk,

but just one pass could
be enough to reveal a wreck

It looks like we should
try to get into action

Wary of rogue ice floes,

the team will track
the submersible

every step of the way

For several hours, it will track
up and down the search zone,

scanning an area
of a few square miles

Only when the sub returns
can they access the images,

hoping against hope
for a glimpse of a wreck

When Franklin set sail in 1845,
he was aware that his ships

could be trapped in sea
ice for at least one winter

But in 1847, after two
years with no word,

Lady Jane Franklin put
pressure on the authorities

to start looking for her
husband and his crew

Rescue missions were
sent from Britain and America

And in 1850, near the entrance
to the Northwest Passage,

a joint search team
turned up the first clue

Graves

Of three sailors who had died

during Franklin's very
first winter in the Arctic

Even in the 1840s,

this many fatalities so early
in a mission was unusual

This shouldn't happen

Three men should not die

in the first winter of
an Arctic expedition

They've only been
out of Britain six months

What's killing them?

With Erebus and
Terror stuck in the ice,

these graves indicate
Franklin's expedition

spent their first winter
here at Beechey Island,

well north of the
modern search zone

Overwintering was
something they'd anticipated

Burying three of
their crew was not

One of the graves was marked
with a quote from the Bible

"Thus saith the Lord of
Hosts; consider your ways"

Puzzling

It's ominous

Has something gone wrong?

Do they sense that
something is going to go wrong

for the rest of the expedition?

Over a century later, in 1984,
archaeologists exhume the bodies

to try and work
out how they died

The corpses were
shockingly well-preserved

in the frozen ground

Tests revealed high levels
of lead in their systems

Lead was a common pollutant
in 19th-century England

But it could also
have come from piping

in the ship's water system,

or even from the solder
used to seal canned food

Innovations designed
to protect the men

from the rigors of the Arctic

But the tests didn't prove

that lead poisoning
was the cause of death,

so this clue only
deepened the mystery

In the search zone,

the Arctic Explorer has
scanned a few square miles

near the last position
of Erebus and Terror

recorded by the crew

Back on the ship, the
team downloads the data

to get their first glimpse
of the Arctic seafloor

As you can see,

there's not a lot of features
in this particular area

So, this is sterile completely

There's nothing, right?

Yeah

With no discoveries
in the first pass,

they're eager to press
on with the search

But there's a problem:

the ice, which had
briefly opened up, is back

As hard as it may be to believe,

this is somewhere in the Arctic

In parts of the Arctic,

this is as good as it's
going to get this year

Global warming means the amount
of summer sea ice in the Arctic

is in long-term decline

But from one year to the next,
the picture is far more complex

Just because there's a warming
trend due to global warming

doesn't mean that you
won't have variations

Modern-day ships can
still encounter difficult ice

because the
year-to-year variations

in this part of the world
can be just extreme

You can go from
no ice one summer

to completely landlocked ice,

where the ice goes from coast
to coast, in another summer

It's hard to predict

The Arctic has always been
an incredibly variable place

In 2014, unusually
extensive sea ice

is now threatening to shut
down the search here entirely

It's frustrating because
the team is so close

to the suspected last
location of Franklin's ships

But how do we know
these crucial coordinates?

After the discovery
of graves in 1850,

several more search
expeditions were sent to the Arctic

And in 1859, nearly 15
years after Franklin set sail,

the next tantalizing clue was
found on King William Island,

nearly 400 miles
south of the burial site

Here, in a stone cairn, men
of the Franklin expedition

had left a single,
handwritten note

The note, an incredible document

of the fate of the
Franklin crews

How can a piece of paper
hold fortune in its hands?

This is the most important
object that has been recovered

This precious piece
of the Franklin puzzle

is now held at the National
Maritime Museum in London

It was standard naval practice

to issue these kind of notes
with a standard blank form

that would be filled
in when necessary

The notes were then
placed in tubes like these

They could be just left

for people to find information
about the expedition

The note explains that
from Beechey Island,

the expedition sailed
over 350 miles south

to coordinates near the
coast of King William Island

Here, the men spent their
second winter in the Arctic,

and the message ends with
the upbeat words "all well"

But scrawled around the edge
of the note is another message,

written a whole year later

A shocking turn of events

that must have filled the
surviving men with despair

Franklin was dead

There's no mention
of how he died,

but the note goes on to say

that nine officers and 15
sailors had also passed away

Something was
going seriously wrong

The loss of any leader in
the middle of an expedition

isn't good news

Particularly so
when you're stranded

in the middle of nowhere
in a hostile environment

The captain of HMS
Terror, Francis Crozier,

was now in command,
and he had a problem

His note implies that
rather than breaking up,

the sea ice
remained frozen solid

throughout the summer of 1847

The ships were trapped,

and the men faced
yet another winter

stuck in the heart of the Arctic

So, why had the
ice failed to melt?

Climate scientists collect
and study ice core samples

to reconstruct past
weather conditions

During warm summers,
ice on the surface will melt,

leaving characteristic
pale bands in the core

But dark areas, lacking in
these distinct pale bands,

indicate times with
far colder summers

And ice core data shows
that the Franklin expedition

coincided with a period
of at least 30 years

with especially
frigid conditions

Based on the ice core record,

the Franklin era was
the least favorable

in terms of ice conditions
in the past 700 years

This period was unusually
cold, and so he really was unlucky

with the timing
of his expedition

Just an unfortunate
confluence of events,

and it's nothing that he
could have anticipated

Mother Nature had
dealt a cruel blow

But with the fate of 105
ailing men in his hands,

the note reveals
that Captain Crozier

decided to make his move

He ordered the men
to abandon the ships

and march south
toward Back's Fish River,

knowing that beyond there
was a British trading post

Setting off, they
faced a daunting trek

of over a thousand
miles to reach it

Exactly why he
attempted that journey

or whether he really
believed they could make it,

the note doesn't say

It is the most
enigmatic of clues

It's just enough to locate
them in the landscape

It's just enough to tell you

that something
terrible has happened

It's just enough to point you

in the right direction
to follow them

But there's so many
things that are not there

The coordinates
in Crozier's note

are the basis for the
team's northern search zone

But winds and currents mean

the ships could have ended up
anywhere within this huge area

And in 2014, sea ice has
plagued that area all summer

It's been a sort of
cat-and-mouse game

We feel like we have a break,
we feel like we have a shot,

and then the ice shifts
and the doors close

In a couple of weeks, these
seas could freeze over completely

Knowing that time is short,

the team sends up a
helicopter to find gaps in the ice

You can get to our
position right here

It's at least eight to
ten miles in open water

Actually, that's excellent

The good news is
that to the north of us,

there is a large opening

And this is right
where we want to be

It's right in the
primary search zone,

so essentially, we
have a shot here

We're waiting to launch
the first mission of the day

We're going to look at a first
block of four kilometers long

There we go

Now the waiting starts

Do you have a visual on it now?

But just an hour
into the search,

ice is spotted

drifting across the
Arctic explorers' path,

and the run is aborted

This morning, we had a window,

and very rapidly, that opening
closed on us from all sides

The ice is moving
quickly around us again,

capturing us, trapping us

The northern
search zone is huge,

and the ice makes
for slow progress

With time running short,

the team abandons this area
in favor of the southern zone,

where there's less ice
and some additional clues

The team began
looking here six years ago

based on eyewitness accounts
of the plight of Franklin's men

preserved by
Inuit oral tradition

Oral tradition is a
very important aspect

of Inuit culture and Inuit life

That's how we learn about
where to go and get the food,

or you may know about these
ice conditions in the springtime

Oral history had to
be very, very accurate,

because if it was not,
it could mean death

According to Inuit accounts,
expedition survivors

were spotted many times
as they marched south

Those sightings were later
passed on to search parties,

including one remarkable
story gathered in 1869

by American explorer
Charles Francis Hall

It describes a dramatic
face-to-face encounter

between the Inuit and
one group of Franklin's men

According to the story,
an officer walked forward,

shouting the Inuit
word for friend

Some believe this
was Captain Crozier,

who had learned some Inuit
words on a previous expedition

The Inuit provided seal
meat for his starving crew

But there was no way they
could support so many men,

so the Inuit left, knowing that
sharing any more of their food

would have been suicide

So the men continued
to march southward

According to Inuit accounts,

they dragged small
boats laden with supplies

If they stop, they die

So they walk and
they pick themselves up

and they try and head south,

pulling the ships'
boats behind them

The word "cold" as we know
it takes on a different meaning

You feel like you want
to roll up in a fetal ball

all the time

You become
inactive, weak-willed,

you don't want to do anything

other than sort of
creep into some place

where there's no
wind and no cold

It was a horrific ordeal
for the malnourished crew

But Hall's report
wasn't the first time

Inuit accounts of the
expedition had reached England

In 1854, the
explorer Sir John Rae

spent time with
another group of Inuit,

who described a
particularly grisly discovery

When the story was
reported in the British press,

all hell broke loose

So this is 1854

This is The Times,
October the 23rd,

and here's John Rae's
letter in all its gory detail

"The bodies of some 30
persons were discovered

"Some were in a tent,
others under the boat,

"which had been
turned to form a shelter

"From the mutilated state
of many of the corpses

"and from the
contents of the kettles,

"it is evident that our
wretched countrymen

"had been driven
to the last resource:

cannibalism as a means
of prolonging existence"

It's a horrendous,
horrific truth

for a Victorian public to hear

Heroes don't eat each
other, least of all naval heroes

To many in Britain, the stories
of cannibalism were an insult

And none other
than Charles Dickens

leapt to the men's defense

He dismissed the Inuit accounts

as "the chatter of a gross
handful of uncivilized people,

with a domesticity
of blood and blubber"

But in 1992, archaeologist
Anne Keenleyside

carried out extensive
research on bones

that had just been discovered

on the coast of
King William Island

Fragments of fabric and
buttons found with them

indicated that they were
members of Franklin's crew

This site map shows the
distribution of the bones

that we uncovered at the site

On this end of the site,
there is a scattering of bones

They're fairly widely scattered

And then, as we move
towards this end of the site,

you see a dense concentration
of bones in this area here

The first bone in which
I identified a cut mark

was a left pelvic bone

I turned it over, uncovered
it, lifted it up from the soil,

and found a distinct cut mark

clearly identifiable as a mark
that was not made by an animal

These kinds of
human-made cut marks

tend to have a
V-shaped cross-section,

depending on the
shape of the blade

These marks appear as though
they were made by metal knives

used to strip flesh
from human bones

in a last desperate
bid to survive

It seemed to corroborate the
Inuit accounts of cannibalism

In its disgust,
19th-century Britain

had rejected those
stories as unreliable folklore

But in doing so, they'd also
overlooked important clues

to the whereabouts of HMS
Erebus and HMS Terror.

The Inuit told explorers
that one of Franklin's ships

was crushed by the ice

before sinking off
King William Island

But oral traditions
also preserve clues

about the fate of
the second ship,

which supposedly remained intact

Could this information help
to narrow down the search?

Here on modern-day
King William Island,

Louie Kamookak has spent
30 years compiling information

passed down through
the generations

He discovered clues
embedded in Inuit culture itself

With the elders involved,

we collected all the
place names in this region

because place name is one
way oral history is passed down

Oral history is passed down
by speaking, telling stories,

but it's also in the place names

There's places like,
past Simpson Strait,

a Boat Place

That's the story where
one of the ships was

when it was still afloat

That's why it
called a Boat Place

This "Boat Place" is found

well south of
King William Island

Based on that and
other Inuit accounts,

Parks Canada has drawn
up its southern search zone

And with the north
blocked by ice,

all efforts are now focused here

So, what do we have?

A detailed oral history

that really, you know, helps
us define where to start looking

It were not for information
provided by the Inuit,

we would have no reason to
start looking for Franklin's ships

down in the Wilmott
and Crampton Bay

Teams from Parks Canada and
the Arctic Research Foundation

have scoured the seafloor
here in recent years

And that work continues
now, using towed sonar units

That's the safety
cable for the sonar

We don't want to lose it

The data comes in live,

so team members keep
their eyes glued to the screens

Winter is coming, and their
search window will soon close

But just as hopes
are beginning to fade,

exciting news comes from
a different source entirely

For many years, a separate team

led by anthropologist
Doug Stenton

has also been looking
for clues on land

In 2014, they're
combing small islands

in the southern search zone
for evidence of Franklin's men

And on September 1,

it's helicopter pilot
Andrew Sterling

who makes a stunning find

Just walking on the beach,

sort of something
caught my eye at the side

and it just looked out of
place, the color behind a rock,

so I just went over
to investigate it

Could this be the breakthrough
the team has been hoping for?

We all looked at it and
went, "Well, this is from a ship"

We didn't know what it was

We're not marine
archaeologists, per se,

but we all thought
this just has that

you know, we all just sensed it

The object is stamped
with characteristic marks

known as broad arrows,

signifying British
Royal Navy property

It was just unmistakable,
what the significance was

An indisputable indication that
this came from a Royal Navy ship

and undeniably from
either Erebus or Terror.

The object is quickly
identified from the ship's plans

as the metal fitting

that supports one
of the ship's cranes

And it was found in the heart
of the southern search area,

close to the Inuit sightings

This large iron object,

very close to where
the Inuit report

that they encountered
one of these ships

To find this in that vicinity

is very, very exciting,
and it really told us

that we were barking
up the right tree

At last, it all seems
to be coming together

This find is the most
important discovery

since the cairn note
over 150 years ago

Are they finally on the verge
of solving the Franklin puzzle?

With winter approaching

and their search
window closing fast,

the Parks Canada team

scrambles to scan the
surrounding seafloor

My colleague and I were
manning the side-scan sonar station

We were both looking
at the sonar monitor,

and there it comes

And you have this really
unmistakable outline

of a shipwreck

No doubt what it was

Started to scroll
down the monitor

And it wasn't even
halfway onto the screen

before you really knew
what you were looking at

Jabbed my finger
right at the screen

and kind of lunged
for it and said,

"That's it, that's it!"

When I saw the image

of the ship coming down, I just

it cut my legs, literally

"Oh, my God, this is going to
be a treasure trove of information,

"and we are going to
really open up a window

directly into history"

It's a pivotal moment
in the Franklin story

Thanks to the Inuit oral history

and, ironically, to the
ice that forced them south,

the team has finally located
one of Franklin's long-lost ships

This is a great
moment for exploration

We've been searching
for, you know, 160 years

for answers to what happened
to the Franklin expedition

The best equipped, most finely
prepared and trained expedition

that had ever set out for
the Northwest Passage,

and to have it
literally obliterated,

end in mass disaster,
no survivors and no ships,

it's been a confounding mystery

To finally have
something significant,

to finally have a
ship, is just incredible

I've spent most of my adult
life dreaming of this day,

and, you know, it's here

Scientists have
located one of the ships

from the fabled
Franklin expedition

found one of two ships

used to search for
the Northwest Passage

teams have finally
hit the jackpot

So an absolutely incredible
day for those people,

some of whom have
spent, you know,

a good chunk
of their life's work

For underwater archaeologists

Marc-André Bernier
and Ryan Harris,

it's the find of a lifetime

But they're desperate
for a closer look,

so before the seas
freeze for another winter,

they dive down to see
the ship with their own eyes

I'd caught a glimpse of
the timber on the seafloor

Followed along its length

Just growing in
anticipation and excitement,

and then, you know, boom!

Towering overhead,
out of the haze,

loomed the bulk of
this stately shipwreck

a full five meters tall

That sensation of
finally laying a hand

on the side of this
storied shipwreck

is quite a remarkable
experience that I'll never forget

The wreck lies just 36
feet below the surface,

but murky water and
piles of broken planks

make it difficult to see

Among the timbers, a
familiar shape catches the eye

Is that a gun?

It's a cannon

Incredible!

Is that two of them?

Yeah

There's so much to
see, it boggles the mind

Directly over the wreck, the
Canadian Hydrographic Service

carries out more sonar work

to create a virtual
image of the entire site

The masts have been
swept away by drifting sea ice,

but the hull of the
ship is in one piece

Holes in the deck
even allow the divers

to get their first
look inside the ship

And you could look forward
and see murky features

Just an incredible
sensation of being inside

That's where they would have
spent long, harrowing winters

through the dark Arctic nights

It's just an absolutely
remarkable sight,

and the fact that
it still stands intact,

it allows you to sort
of place yourself there

You feel this
connection with the past

It's really quite astonishing

To cap it all off,
there is one last prize

And I hear John call over
on the headset, saying,

"You're not going to believe
this, but I found the bell"

And I thought I must
have misheard him,

but sure enough, I went over
and there was the ship's bell,

lying in plain sight, right
on top of the upper deck

Embossed on the side is the
year that Franklin set sail: 1845

A poignant reminder
of the terrible events

that played out on
this ship 170 years ago

Today was an extraordinary day

I've never had the like
of it in my entire career,

and I probably never
will after this day

This wreck site without a doubt

is one of the most extraordinary
things I've ever laid eyes on

It is absolutely an underwater
archaeologist's dream

To identify which
ship they've found,

the team takes measurements

from the high-resolution
sonar data

This image here kind of shows

a good perspective

for extracting length
measurements

According to the 1845 plans

from the National
Maritime Museum,

the dimensions of
Erebus and Terror

were subtly different

Carefully comparing the
sonar image with the plans,

only one of the ships
is a perfect match

The wreck must be HMS
Erebus, Franklin's flagship

The sonar data
is used to produce

this three-dimensional
reconstruction

The wreck will be
explored in great detail

in years to come,

but it's already produced
an extraordinary idea

that could rewrite the
history of Franklin's expedition

Both ships were originally
thought to have been abandoned

off King William Island,
much further north,

so how did Erebus move
100 miles to the south?

So where the wreck
of Erebus is found,

it actually happens
to be protected,

almost surrounded by a
barrier of small islands and islets

What we ask ourselves

is how this ship
arrived at that location

Satellite imagery from
the Canadian Ice Service

shows that ice in this area

tends to drift
south with the wind

Could this have
carried Erebus south?

Or might there be
another explanation?

You see the tendril of ice

coming down the
bottom of the screen,

and that's being expelled
into the Queen Maud Gulf

So it's not terribly surprising
that at least one of the ships

ultimately would
have been directed

towards Wilmott and Crampton Bay

What is less clear, however, is
how it could have gotten through

this tangled web of
small islands and shoals,

how it worked itself
into a protective pocket

of where we find it today

Harris and Bernier
believe it's unlikely

that the ice could
drag a ship intact

through the maze
of reefs and shoals

But there is a
more plausible idea

suggested by a further
clue in the Inuit accounts

When Erebus was
last seen above water,

smoke was rising from the
ship as if it were inhabited

Had some of the crew
returned to the ship

from their attempted
march south,

and could they have steered
her to where she now lies?

It's a possibility that
might rewrite the history

of the expedition

The ships had already navigated

through a significant stretch
of the Northwest Passage

to reach King William Island,

but the wreck lies
close to the mainland,

where the coast had
already been surveyed

by previous expeditions
coming from the west

So if survivors did
pilot Erebus to this spot,

they had bridged
the gap on the charts

and completed the
goal of their mission

Now these men, that
last surviving band,

a final fire before
the flame goes out

These men have, in effect,
completed the final link

in the chain of the
Northwest Passage

But that is so far from
their minds at that moment

These men are thinking
nothing of fame or records

They're thinking
of the following day

Inuit accounts
mention a few sets

of what they called white
men's footsteps heading inland

A last trace of the
remaining souls

In navigating the ship
to where it now lies,

those men may have
found the final link

of the elusive Northwest Passage

Whether they succeeded or not,

the wreck of HMS Erebus
is a monument to exploration

and to the sacrifice
of all 129 men

of Franklin's lost expedition