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Andrée Balloon Crash: A Photographic Journey through the Most Surreal Arctic Disaster

article-imageThe Andreée expedition balloon crash (via Tekniska museet)

Few images are more strange and haunting than those discovered on some frozen film in 1930. They reveal the mysterious fate of the S. A. Andrée Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897, where a hot air balloon meant to sail over the North Pole instead crashed into the ice.

Swedish balloonist S. A. Andrée had set out with team members Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel to make history, but planning and the harsh conditions of the Arctic cut their journey incredibly short. The balloon launched from Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean in July of 1897. However, inadequate testing of the balloon, Andrée’s insistence on using a “drag-rope” method of steering that trailed ropes on the ice, and just the quixotic nature of the expedition resulted in death for all three expedition members.

After just two days of flight, the balloon lost hydrogen and plummeted to the ice. The men were completely unprepared for a land expedition, and set up camp on the uninhabited White Island in the Svalbard archipelago. There, the Arctic winter eventually consumed them and they perished in the unforgiving environment of ice and howling winds.

It wasn’t until the remains of their camp were discovered in 1930 that anyone knew what exactly happened to the Andrée crew. Since then, Roald Amundsen had accomplished the feat of sailing over the North Pole in his much sturdier Norge airship in 1926. Remarkably, the remains of not just the three expedition members — their bodies gnawed by scavenging polar bears — were found, but diaries, cameras, and film as well. Even more incredibly, 93 photographs were able to be saved. Below are some of the eerie photographs of the unfortunate journey of the Andrée balloon expedition from that discovered film and other sources.

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A found expedition camera (via Tekniska museet)

article-imageThe found film (via Tekniska museet)

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The team before their departure. From left to right: Nils Gustaf Ekholm, Nils Strindberg, & S. A. Andrée (via Wikimedia)

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Preparing the balloon (via Perspektivet Museum)

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Readying the rigging (via Perspektivet Museum)

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The balloon takes off (via Perspektivet Museum)

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The balloon over the water (note the trail from the drag ropes (via Perspektivet Museum)

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Watching the balloon disappear from shore (via Perspektivet Museum)

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After the balloon crash (via Tekniska museet)

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Posing with the wreck (via Tekniska museet)

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A shot seagull (via Tekniska museet)

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The empty balloon and bearing (via Tekniska museet)

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Moving a boat through the icy waters (via Tekniska museet)

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Setting up camp, raising the Swedish flag (via Tekniska museet)

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At camp (via Tekniska museet)

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With a polar bear kill (via Wikimedia)

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Camp on White Island (via Tekniska museet)

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The 1930 funeral for the remains of S. A. Andrée, Nils Strindberg, and Knut Frænkel in Stockholm (via Wikimedia)

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Schoolchildren viewing an 1930 exhibition of Andrée expedition artifacts in Stockholm (via Wikimedia)

article-imageArtifacts from the Andrée camp in the Polarmuseet in Tromso, Norway (via Wikimedia) 


Polar Week is January 27 - 31, 2014 at Atlas Obscura. Follow along on Twitter (hashtag #PolarWeek), FacebookTumblrGoogle+, and Kinja