P.E.I. fishermen back home after helping discover HMS Terror

A father-son pair of Island fishermen are back on P.E.I., after being part of the discovery of a lifetime earlier this month. David McIsaac, and son Daniel McIsaac, were part of the small crew that discovered Sir John Franklin’s long-lost HMS Terror.

Ship found 168 years after a failed attempt to complete the Northwest Passage

A bell, belonging to the submerged HMS Terror, captured by a remotely operated underwater vehicle. (Courtesy: Daniel McIsaac)

A father-son pair of Island fishermen are back on P.E.I., after being part of a discovery of a lifetime earlier this month. 

Captain David McIsaac and son Daniel McIsaac, were part of the small crew that discovered Sir John Franklin's long-lost HMS Terror.

Pair also part of Erebus discovery

When not fishing in Atlantic Canada, the pair has worked with the Arctic Research Foundation for several years, with much of that time dedicated to locating Franklin's lost ships.

Daniel McIsaac and David McIsaac, at the Charlottetown airport in September 2016, say helping discover the Erebus and the Terror is something they'll treasure for the rest of their days. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC News)

Both were present when the HMS Erebus was found in 2014. That took several years of searching, but the HMS Terror was found the day after expedition leader Adrian Schimnowski got a tip from a local hunter.

Daniel McIsaac said he'd taken over steering the vessel while his father went to the washroom, and noticed an unfamiliar large peak on the depth sounder.

"They made the decision to make a second overpass," said Daniel McIsaac. "By then everybody was in the wheelhouse, so I sailed back over it, I stayed right on the mark we took the first time, and when it came back up, everybody was just: 'Oh my God, what could this be?'"

'Either a whale skeleton or a ship'

Assuming the large peak was either a whale skeleton or a sunken ship, Captain David McIsaac ordered a smaller boat put into the water to investigate, and was able to confirm it was indeed a ship in the icy waters below.

With a hunch it could be the Terror, the crew returned to the site the next day, with a remotely operated underwater vehicle, to get a closer look at the details of the ship.

Research vessel Martin Bergmann, with the crew who discovered the wreck of the HMS Terror in September 2016. (Courtesy: Danial McIsaac)

"We put the ROV in the water, where we figured the stern of the ship was, and we started at the back and worked our way to the front," said David McIsaac.  "We had blueprints for the Terror, and everything we came across as we were working our way to the front, matched up with the blueprints on the Terror." 

McIsaac says the submerged ship was in pristine condition, with almost no damage to either the interior or the exterior, "as though you could pump the water out of it and it would still float," said McIsaac. He says once it was clear among the crew that the ship was the long-lost Terror, everyone on board was elated. 

'It completely changes history'

"Any shipwreck found in the Arctic would make the news, and of course the Terror is the most famous ship of them all," said David McIsaac. "And finding it where we found it, it completely changes history, because there's not a history book written that tells you it's at the south of King William Island, it's always been (believed to be) sunk at the north of  King William Island, so now every history book will have to be re-written."

He says the crew—mostly Atlantic Canadians from P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia—had less than two days to explore the ship, before they had to return the research vessel to Cambridge Bay.

Another image captured by a remotely operated underwater vehicle, upon discovery of the wreck of the HMS Terror. (Courtesy: Daniel McIsaac)

More discoveries to make

The pair estimates that, during the warmer weeks of the year, crews will be diving to study the sunken ship for years to come, looking for answers to all the questions that remain.

"I don't know if we'll ever make the history books or anything, whether they'll talk much about us," said David McIsaac, "but we've definitely changed history, it's an amazing feeling."

Both father and son are set to return to the Arctic by the end of this week.

They hope to get the call to help again next year, both eager to remain part of such an important piece of history.