In 1845, British explorer Sir John Franklin set off into the Canadian Arctic in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. The voyage, which attracted huge media attention, was well-funded and heavily equipped. Yet after entering the Arctic, the expedition was never heard from again. Two ships and 129 men simply vanished into the uncharted northern waters.
Over the years, a few clues have hinted at the expedition’s terrifying fate. An 1859 rescue mission found two notes under a rock cairn on King William Island. The upbeat first note reported that the ships had become trapped in the ice and the crew had decided to winter on the island. The second note, scrawled in the margins of the first, revealed that the ships had been trapped for over a year and the crew had experienced a mysteriously high mortality rate. Franklin was dead and the survivors intended to walk south to safety. They didn’t make it. Inuit hunters reported finding bones marked by metal saws. “The white men had been eating each other.”
The area fully came under Canadian control in 1880, by which time London, disheartened by the lack of wreckage found, no longer had any intention of proceeding with search operations. Several Canadian attempts were made to find the missing ships, but all were unsuccessful. Until now that is. In September 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that one of the ships had been discovered. The wreck, found by an underwater vehicle belonging to Parks Canada, likely holds vital clues about the exact fate of the expedition—and the mysteriously high death rate that claimed Franklin and many of his crew. The hunt is now on for the other ship and there is little doubt that it will be found soon.