Canadian shipwreck ID'd as Sir Franklin's long-lost Erebus

Canadian Shipwreck ID'd as Sir Franklin's Long-Lost Erebus

One of two doomed ships lost long ago trying to discover the mysterious Northwest Passage has been found.

In September, Canadian officials announced they'd found a shipwreck they believed belonged to Sir John Franklin's expedition to discover the passage in the 1840s, but they couldn't tell which ship they'd found.

The prime minister's office announced Wednesday that through reviewing artifacts and sonar measurements, they ID'd the vessel as the HMS Erebus and solved one of the world's great shipwreck mysteries.

"We were peering through spaces in the upper deck. ... We could see inside the internal spaces, and now we realize we were, in fact, looking into Sir John Franklin's cabin, so it's really, really exciting," Ryan Harris, Parks Canada underwater archaeologist said.

But for all the excitement, the expedition researchers finally found is pretty morbid.

A British Royal Navy officer, Sir Franklin sailed to the Canadian Arctic in 1845 when Britain decided once and for all to chart a path through the islands and find the Northwest Passage.

Canada explorer ships
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Canadian shipwreck ID'd as Sir Franklin's long-lost Erebus
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)

In 1846, the Erebus and HMS Terror became trapped in ice. Sir Franklin and his entire crew of more than 100 men died of starvation and disease, and some may have resorted to cannibalism. Some made a desperate attempt to walk to the mainland over the ice.

The ships' location remained a mystery for nearly 170 years, though an old Inuit story passed down through the generations rumored their ancestors had spotted white men and their ship near King William Island around the time the expedition disappeared. (Video via Shipwreck Central TV)

Turns out that old story was nearly spot-on as the Erebus was found just off the northwest corner of the island. An underwater archaeologist told CBC about the moment sonar gave them a near-perfect picture of a ship on the ocean floor.

RYAN HARRIS: "The wreck of one of Franklin's ships scrolled down the screen, and I don't think it was even halfway onto the monitor when I screamed out: 'That's it! That's it!'"

Researchers are still looking for the HMS Terror. As for Sir Franklin himself, the archaeologists say their cameras and equipment still haven't gone into the Erebus. So they still don't know if Franklin was buried on shore, buried at sea or if his body is still on board the Erebus.

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