Canada finds 1 of 2 explorer ships lost in Arctic

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Canada finds 1 of 2 explorer ships lost in Arctic
This image released by Parks Canada, on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, shows a side-scan sonar image of ship on the sea floor in northern Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, that one of two fabled British explorer ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found. The ships were last seen in the late 1840s. The Prime Minister said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. (AP Photo/Parks Canada, via The Canadian Press)
This image released by Parks Canada, on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, shows a side-scan sonar image of ship on the sea floor in northern Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, that one of two fabled British explorer ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found. The ships were last seen in the late 1840s. The Prime Minister said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. (AP Photo/Parks Canada, via The Canadian Press)
This image released by Parks Canada, on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, shows a side-scan sonar image of ship on the sea floor in northern Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, that one of two fabled British explorer ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found. The ships were last seen in the late 1840s. The Prime Minister said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. (AP Photo/Parks Canada, via The Canadian Press)
In an August 24, 2014 photo, a crew member of the HMCS Kingston loads an remote underwater vehicle part of the Victoria Strait Expedition, west of Pond Inlet on the Eclipse Sound. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014 that one of the two lost ships from Sir John Franklin's doomed Arctic expedition that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years has been found. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were last seen in the late 1840s. Harper, speaking in Ottawa, said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Adrian Wyld)
In this Aug. 24, 2014, file photo, Parks Canada's Ryan Harris, left, briefs Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on efforts to find the Franklin expedition aboard the HMCS Kingston west of Pond Inlet on the Eclipse Sound in Nunavut, Canada. The Prime Minister announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, that one of two fabled British explorer ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found. The Prime Minister said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. The ships were last seen in the late 1840s. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld, File)
Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, talks about the find from the Victoria Strait Expedition as Parks Canada's Ryan Harris looks on during a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. The Prime Minister announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, that one of two fabled British explorer ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found. The Prime Minister said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. The ships were last seen in the late 1840s. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, listens to details from Parks Canada's Ryan Harris about the find from the Victoria Strait Expedition during a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. The Prime Minister announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, that one of two fabled British explorer ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found. The Prime Minister said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. The ships were last seen in the late 1840s. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, talks about the find from the Victoria Strait Expedition as Parks Canada's Ryan Harris looks on during a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. The Prime Minister announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, that one of two fabled British explorer ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found. The Prime Minister said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. The ships were last seen in the late 1840s. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
An artifact is displayed on a table as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, center, speaks in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. The Prime Minister announced Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, that one of two fabled British explorer ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found. The Prime Minister said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair. The ships were last seen in the late 1840s. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
John Geiger, president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, holds an iron fitting from a Royal Navy ship, identified as a davit, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Ottawa. The artifact is being noted as the key piece of evidence that led to the discovery of a ship believed to be one of two fabled British explorer ships the Franklin Expedition. THe HMS Erebus and HMS Terror disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
John Geiger, president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, holds an iron fitting from a Royal Navy ship, identified as a davit, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Ottawa. The artifact is being noted as the key piece of evidence that led to the discovery of a ship believed to be one of two fabled British explorer ships the Franklin Expedition. THe HMS Erebus and HMS Terror disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
CAMBRIDGE BAY, Nunavut--Ryan Harris (LEFT) and Jonathan Moore (CENTRE), both senior underwater archeologists at Parks Canada, are the most experienced veterans of the current search for the Royal Navy's Franklin Expedition ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, which were lost with a crew of 129 men while exploring the Northwest Passage from 1845-48. (Paul Watson/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1900: Naval ships - British Royal Navy sailing ship HMS Erebus, 19th century. Color illustration. (Photo By DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini/Getty Images)
1845: The ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror used in Sir John Franklin's ill-fated attempt to discover the Northwest passage. Original Publication: Illustrated London News pub 24th May 1845 (Photo by Illustrated London News/Getty Images)
Sir John Franklin's cabin on the 'HMS Erebus', circa 1845. The 'Erebus' went missing on a voyage to the Northwest Passage, along with Franklin and his entire crew. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Captain Fitzjames's cabin on the 'HMS Erebus', circa 1845. The 'Erebus' went missing on a voyage to the Northwest Passage, along with the expedition's leader John Franklin and his entire crew. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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By ROB GILLIES

TORONTO (AP) -- One of two British explorer ships that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago has been found, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday.

The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were last seen in the late 1840s. Canada announced in 2008 that it would search for the ships led by British Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin.

Harper, speaking in Ottawa, said it remains unclear which ship has been found, but images show there's enough information to confirm it's one of the pair.

Franklin and 128 hand-picked officers and men vanished on an expedition begun in 1845 to find the fabled Northwest Passage. Franklin's disappearance prompted one of history's largest and longest rescue searches, from 1848 to 1859, which resulted in the passage's discovery.

The route runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago. European explorers sought the passage as a shorter route to Asia, but found it rendered inhospitable by ice and weather.

"This is truly a historic moment for Canada," said Harper, who was beaming, uncharacteristically. "This has been a great Canadian story and mystery and the subject of scientists, historians, writers and singers so I think we really have an important day in mapping the history of our country."

Harper's government began searching for Franklin's ships as it looked to assert Canada's sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, where melting Arctic ice has unlocked the very shipping route Franklin was after.

The original search for the ships helped open up parts of the Canadian Arctic for discovery back in the 1850s.

Harper said the ship was found Sunday using a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

The discovery comes shortly after a team of archeologists found a tiny fragment from the Franklin expedition. Searchers discovered an iron fitting that once helped support a boat from one of the doomed expedition's ships in the King William Island search area.

Franklin's vessels are among the most sought-after prizes in marine archaeology. Harper said the discovery would shed light on what happened to Franklin's crew.

Tantalizing traces have been found over the years, including the bodies of three crewmen discovered in the 1980s.

The bodies of two English seamen - John Hartnell, 25, and Royal Marine William Braine, 33 - were exhumed in 1986. An expedition uncovered the perfectly preserved remains of a petty officer, John Torrington, 20, in an ice-filled coffin in 1984.

Experts believe the ships were lost in 1848 after they became locked in the ice near King William Island and that the crews abandoned them in a hopeless bid to reach safety.

The search for an Arctic passage to Asia frustrated explorers for centuries, beginning with John Cabot's voyage in 1497. Eventually it became clear that a passage did exist, but was too far north for practical use. Cabot, the Italian-British explorer, died in 1498 while trying to find it and the shortcut eluded other famous explorers including Henry Hudson and Francis Drake.

No sea crossing was successful until Roald Amundsen of Norway completed his trip from 1903-1906.

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