Technology & Science

Franklin's ships still missing after new search

Another search for John Franklin's lost 1845 Arctic expedition has failed to turn up the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

Another search for John Franklin's lost 1845 Arctic expedition has failed to turn up the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

"We're quite confident that neither of the wrecks lies in the area we have scanned to date," lead researcher Ryan Harris of Parks Canada said during a teleconference Monday.

His expedition returned to Ottawa over the weekend after a search involving the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier and two smaller launch vessels in the waters southeast and northeast of O'Reilly Island in Nunavut's Queen Maud Gulf.

The search launched Aug. 18. It used sonar to scan 150 square kilometres of sea floor over six days, but was unable to find any sign of the missing ships.

"I'm always disappointed if we don't find something right away," said Harris, a senior marine archeologist.

But he said researchers were aware that they would have to survey a large area due to conflicting accounts of where the vessels might be located. He added that Parks Canada has committed to a three-year search.

In 1845, Franklin and his party set out from England aboard the vessels in hopes of exploring and mapping the Northwest Passage. Neither he nor any of his 128 crewmen returned.

This was the second year of the effort that started in 2008, as Parks Canada was not able to get on a military or coast guard vessel to do any work in 2009.

Investigator wreck uncovered

Harris said the 2010 survey provided valuable underwater mapping, even if it didn't turn up Franklin's ships.

"The fact that we know more about the surface of Mars than this part of the Arctic, I think is quite telling," he said. "Even if we never locate a shipwreck in the area, we're sounding depths of an uncharted part of our country."

He said Parks Canada is consulting with its project partners to figure out when they will resume the search.

Many searches for the remains of Franklin's expedition have been conducted since it went missing, but only traces have ever been found.

In the mid-1980s, University of Alberta researchers discovered the graves of three of Franklin's men on Beechey Island, where they had died in 1846 as the expedition wintered there. 

In 2008, Parks Canada researchers retrieved about a dozen remnants of copper sheets, believed to be from Erebus and Terror, from three islands near O'Reilly Island.

The search for Franklin's ships was one of two undertaken by Parks Canada's 2010 Arctic Surveys. 

On July 25, Parks Canada archeologists turned up the wreck of the HMS Investigator, a ship abandoned in 1854 during its search for Franklin's expedition. That ship was found in Banks Island's Mercy Bay in the Northwest Territories.

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