The ill-fated North Pole expedition
Get to know some of our most famous polar explorers! In previous newsletters, we have written about Willem Barents, Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld and Fridtjof Nansen. This time, we will tell you more about Salomon August Andrée and his ill-fated North Pole expedition.
On 11th July, 1897, a hydrogen balloon lifted from Danskøya west of Spetsbergen and headed north. The balloon was called Örnen (meaning “the eagle” in Swedish) and carried the three expedition members, Salomon August Andrée, Knut Fraenkel and Nils Strindberg. Their aim was to be the first to set foot on the North Pole.
As a subsequence of the contemporary nationalism during the 19th century and rivalry against Norway, which had quite some advantage in the run for the Polar Regions, Andrée’s expedition received plenty of support from scientists and sponsors back in Sweden. Andrée had participated in the Swedish expedition to Svalbard during the first International Polar year in 1882-1883. Another participant was Nils Ekholm, who was supposed to come with on the journey to the North Pole as a meteorologist, but during the summer before the departure Ekholm came to the conclusion that the balloon wasn’t dense enough and lost too much hydrogen. He demanded Andrée to solve the problem, but Andrée did not agree and as an outcome of their dispute Ekholm quit the expedition. His place was instead given to Knut Fraenkel.
Despite the warning signs Andrée followed his plan, which resulted in a lot of commotion during the first minutes after take-off. The draglines that were supposed to steer the balloon were tangled by friction, causing them to loosen from their mountings and the balloon itself. Weight was also decreased with the purpose to not lose height, but instead the balloon rose 700 meters. The low air pressure resulted in that even more hydrogen was lost and 64 hours after departure the balloon crashed on the pack ice. The expedition members began a difficult and almost three months long journey across the ice and finally set camp at Andréeneset on Kvitøya. Not until 33 years later the crew of the vessel Bratvaag found their remains and a variety of items labelled “Andrée Expedition". What actually happened on the island is still today a mystery…