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Lost in 1915, Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance found off coast of Antarctica

“The preservation is beyond imagination,” said Mensun Bound, the director of exploration at the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust.

Over a century after it sank to the depths of the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica, the lost ship of Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton, has been found.

In 1915 the Endurance was trapped by dense pack ice, forcing Shackleton and his crew to make a stunning escape.

Now, 107 years later, the wooden vessel has been located and “it is virtually intact,” said Mensun Bound, the director of exploration at the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust which organized the expedition to find it.

“The preservation is beyond imagination,” Bound told NBC News by phone on Wednesday, adding that the ship’s name could still be seen emblazoned across the stern.

Strenuous Endeavours
Efforts were made to free Endurance from the polar ice in February 1915, but were ultimately unsuccessful.Frank Hurley / Scott Polar Research Institute / Getty Images file

“It’s beautiful,” he said. He added that he had “never ever seen a wreck as bold and beautiful as this,” in the 30 years he had spent working on shipwrecks. “It just doesn’t get any better,” he said.

The Weddell Sea’s cold temperatures of the would have played a key role in preserving the ship, said Dan Snow, a British historian whose content platform History Hit partnered with the expedition team to document the discovery.

“It is super cold. It’s probably just below zero,” he said. This meant there were “no wood-eating microbes and microorganisms” damaging the vessel, he added.

The ship’s discovery comes 100 years after Shackleton’s death in 1922.

Endurance was found at a depth of 3008 meters in the Weddell Sea. The ship's name was still visible on its stern.
Endurance was found at a depth of 3008 meters in the Weddell Sea. The ship's name was still visible on its stern.Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust / National Geographic

Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition set out to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica and together with his crew, the explorer embarked on his journey in late 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I.

He offered to cancel the voyage and put his ship at the disposal of the British government, but he was directed by Winston Churchill, then head of the U.K.’s Royal Navy, to proceed.

Endurance did not reach land and became trapped in dense pack ice, and after they were stuck in the ice for 10 months, the 28 men on board were forced to eventually abandon ship. They escaped in lifeboats and on foot.

Captain Frank Worsley marked down the coordinates where it sank and the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust said that these played a key role in their discovery of the vessel.

Image: Return Of The Sun
Return of the sun over the Endurance after the long winter darkness during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition from 1914-17 led by Ernest Shackleton. Scott Polar Research Institute / University of Cambridge via Getty Images

The ship was located at a depth of almost 10,000 feet in the Weddell Sea and found within the area the team had initially set out based on Worsley’s coordinates.

They made their discovery weeks after launching the expedition in early February.

Image: Ernest Shackleton
Ernest Henry Shackleton, circa 1910. Getty Images

The wreck will be protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, ensuring that while it is being surveyed and filmed, it will not be disturbed.

The trust had previously said that an important goal of its expedition was to “bring the story of Shackleton, his ship and the members of his team to new and younger audiences.”

And now, Bound said, the ship’s discovery presents a fresh opportunity “for people to re-explore the whole Shackleton saga.”

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