Death in the Arctic…by Balloon?

In 1897, Salomon August Andrée concocted a daring plan to become the first man to reach the North Pole. Along with two other men, he climbed into a giant hydrogen balloon and set sail from Sweden. But unfortunately, they never reached their destination. What happened to the lost SA Andree expedition?

The SA Andree Arctic Balloon Expedition

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, countries around the world competed against each other to be the first to reach the North Pole. In many ways, their efforts were similar to those that surrounded the moon landing race of the 1960’s.

At that time, Sweden was a virtual unknown in the world of polar exploration. So, when SA Andrée began fundraising for an expedition to the North Pole, he found an eager audience. His plan was to fly a balloon across the Arctic Sea. On the way, he hoped to pass near to or directly over the North Pole. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences agreed to fund the entirety of his expedition. Luminaries such as King Oscar II and Alfred Nobel also donated to the cause.

SA Andree’s Expedition Vanishes?

On July 11, 1897, SA Andree launched his balloon. Accompanying him were Nils Strindberg, a physicist, chemist, and photographer, along with an engineer named Knut Frænkel. For a short while, nothing was heard from the expedition. Then, a pigeon was shot as it landed on a Norwegian steamer. Upon closer inspection, a message was discovered.

“The Andree Polar Expedition to the ‘Aftonbladet’, Stockholm. July 13 12.30pm, 82 deg. north latitude, 15 deg.5 min. east longitude. Good journey eastwards, 10 deg. south. All goes well on board. This is the third message sent by pigeon. Andrée.”

This message represented Andrée’s final communication. The expedition’s disappearance became an enduring mystery that wasn’t solved for another three decades.

Discovery of SA Andree’s Lost Expedition?

On August 5, 1930, the crew of the Norwegian vessel Bratvaag landed on Kvitøya, a normally inaccessible island in the Arctic Ocean. They quickly discovered Andrée’s and Strindberg’s skeletons, along with a boat, equipment, and a journal. A later expedition uncovered Frænkel’s remains along with photographic film, a logbook, and maps.

The film and journals told a horrifying tale. The balloon lost hydrogen quickly and crashed after just two days. The men spent the next three months attempting to work their way south, fighting inadequate clothing, poor provisions, and difficult currents. Eventually, they camped on a large ice floe and allowed it to carry them south. However, the floe broke up as it bumped into Kvitøya, forcing the three men to move their camp to the island itself. At that point, Andrée’s diary entries grew increasingly erratic and its assumed that he along with his companions died a short while later.

What killed off the SA Andree Expedition?

Although the bodies were recovered, the mystery of what actually killed the explorers remains unsolved. In his book, De döda på Vitön, Ernst Tryde suggested that the men ate undercooked polar bear meat, causing them to expire from trichinosis. Others point to vitamin A poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning, lead poisoning, scurvy, botulism, suicide, polar bear attack, hypothermia, and/or general malaise. The most recent work on the subject, performed by Bea Uusma Schyffert, indicates that at least Strindberg died from a polar bear attack.

“Posterity has expressed surprise that they died on Kvitøya, surrounded by food. The surprise is rather that they found the strength to live so long.” ~ Rolf Kjellström

The expedition was ill-fated from the beginning. There were plenty of danger signs even before the launch, all of which were ignored or even covered up by Andrée. In many ways, Andrée appears to be a victim of his own success. His fundraising campaign created tremendous publicity and media pressure. With such expectations, its possible that Andrée felt like he had no other choice but to follow through with his original, poorly-conceived plan. He paid the ultimate price for doing so, as did Nils Strindberg and Knut Frænkel.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Although the expedition was foolhardy in retrospect, it deserves to be remembered for another reason. Armed with little more than their own ingenuity, Andrée, Strindberg, and Frænkel managed to survive an astonishing three months in some of the toughest terrain known to mankind. Working together, they successfully steered a course south and if it hadn’t been for a run of bad luck, might’ve made it to safety. Yes, their story is one of tragedy. But its also one of inspiration and of perseverance.

What was the Bloop?

In 1997, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detected a strange noise in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. After several repeated incidents, the sound vanished, never to be heard again. What did the bloop sound like? And what was behind the strange noise?

What was the Bloop?

The Bloop was a powerful, ultra-low frequency underwater sound. During the summer of 1997, it was detected several times by a hydrophone array in the Pacific Ocean, southwest of South America. After that summer, the sound never returned.

“[The Bloop] rises rapidly in frequency over about one minute and was of sufficient amplitude to be heard on multiple sensors, at a range of over 5,000 km.” ~ NOAA

Speculation about the Bloop’s origin continues to this day. Dr. Christopher Fox, who named the Bloop, doesn’t believe that it originated from humans or a geological event. In fact, he thinks it came from an animal due to the fact that “its signature is a rapid variation on frequency similar to that of sounds known to be made by marine beasts.” There’s just one problem with his theory. The Bloop was far louder than noises caused by any other ocean-based creature, including whales. So, whatever caused the Bloop is either bigger than a whale or far more efficient at generating sound.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Is it possible that the Bloop was some sort of sea serpent, similar to the one reported by the 1840 voyage of the HMS Daedalus? It seems possible but until the Bloop decides to resurface again, the best we can do is speculate.

Lost Tribe Discovered in Brazil…Now What?

Two weeks ago, FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Affairs agency announced the confirmed existence of a lost tribe living deep in the Amazon basin.  It is one of at least two dozen lost tribes located within Brazil’s borders and like the others, has very little, if any contact with modern civilization.

The Lost Tribe?

This particular lost tribe was discovered near Peru’s border in the Vale do Javari, a rain forest reservation of sorts for Brazil’s indigenous peoples.  The population is estimated at about two hundred.  They live in four large communal malocas and appear to be planting corn and bananas, amongst other things.

The story reminds me of 2008, when a photographer associated with FUNAI claimed to have discovered a lost tribe in the same general area.  A short while later, it turned out that the whole affair was a hoax and that the tribe had been discovered much earlier, in 1910 to be exact.  The purpose of the stunt was to shed light on the danger that the logging industry posed to Brazil’s tribes.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, that brings me to the question at hand.  Namely, how should society as a whole treat these people?  Popular opinion holds that we should “protect” the tribe.  Proponents point to the terrible treatment natives have traditionally received at the hands of outsiders.  They also believe that the lifestyle and traditions of these tribes are precious things that deserve to be protected from outside influence.  FUNAI is at the forefront of this argument, having actively sought to isolate Brazil’s tribes from the outside world.

Personally, I love the idea of lost tribes.  In a world that often seems devoid of mystery and romance, the very thought of an undiscovered, self-sustaining society gets my blood flowing.  However, I can’t help but disagree with popular opinion.  It strikes me that FUNAI is treating these tribes as a strange sort of sociological experiment where the people are, in essence, forcefully isolated on reservations while the rest of us watch via cameras high in the sky.  Its also quite possible that the tribes could benefit from food, medicine, and other things obtainable via peaceful trade (of course, this could make them vulnerable to communicable diseases as well).

Regardless, I don’t think that contact should be mandatory.  If Brazil’s tribes want to be left alone, then we should respect their wishes.  No one should be forced to accept change.  But at the same time, no one should be denied the opportunity to pursue change either.