Published On: May 23rd, 2022By Categories: Feature5 min read



Bell’s 412 helicopters helped to uncover the incredible story of Ernest Shackleton’s doomed 1914 expedition to Antarctica and the eventual sinking of his ship, Endurance

As anyone involved in search and rescue will know, finding a ship, even a large one, in an ocean is extremely difficult. The ocean is simply much larger than people ever imagine. A huge container ship can be just a speck on the horizon even from a close distance. But a sunken ship is even more of a challenge. Firstly, locating the wreck is always difficult as ships often end up quite far from where they originally sank, especially in deep water.

Only a few brave souls have ever tried to locate the wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s doomed expedition to Antarctic over 107 years after it sank.

His ship, the Endurance, was swallowed by the unrelenting ice right before the team’s eyes, leading to a story of survival that would ultimately see them all saved, after a hard battle against some of the harshest elements in the world.

After surviving on the ice for months as it floated in the Weddell Sea, Shackleton’s team was eventually deposited onto Elephant Island. Shackleton and a few of his team then used one of Endurance’s lifeboats to reach a Whaling station in South Georgia, navigating all the Southern Ocean could throw at them for nearly a month.

From there, the rest of the team was rescued, bringing to an end a tail of true survival over the elements.

For many, locating the Endurance has been a lifelong project, but its discovery in 2022 finally gave a great ending to an ongoing journey of exploration, bravery and survival in one of the world’s toughest terrains.

Finding the wreck was no simple task and required the co-ordination of a large group of people, companies and equipment involved in the project.

With everything from ice-breaking ships, drilling rigs, teams of experts and, importantly, air support, provided by South-African based Ultimate Aviation, were required to find the ship.

The company, which operates nine Bell 412 helicopters, as well as fixed-wing aircraft, was a key player in ensuring the expedition went to plan, both successfully and safely.

“We are one of four helicopter companies in the world that operate down in Antarctica and this is our eighth consecutive season there. It’s a very unique and unforgiving terrain because of the weather there, and the remoteness of the area,” said Shaun Roseveare, CEO, Ultimate Aviation.

“Eighteen months ago, we got involved in the planning for the Shackleton expedition. It was an incredibly complicated mission because the wreck is located under three kilometers (or 10,000 feet) of water and constantly shifting ice in the Weddell Sea. This and other factors such as strong winds and temperatures of -18C combined to make it one of the world’s most difficult shipwreck searches.”

The project’s task was made somewhat easier by the original notes of the ship’s captain, Frank Worsley, who, using primitive navigation tools, marked down the location of the Endurance as it sank into the frigid waters of Antarctica.

When the wreck was finally discovered, he was just over four nautical miles out, a remarkable achievement for coordinates recorded back in 1915 and a testament to his skills.

The company’s Bell 412s were used in a number of critical roles, including moving people and equipment around the ice sheets, and also scouting ahead of the icebreaker, to find the easiest route through the thick ice.

Ice is one of the hardest conditions for a helicopter pilot to fly in, but the Bell 412 comes with a long history of research, design and development to cope with ‘icing’ scenarios.

Inside, the large, insulated well-appointed cabin became a warm place to escape the Southern Pole’s freezing temperatures. And the 412’s lifting capability also came into its own, allowing the team to fly in much of the heavy equipment needed to drill into the ice.

As with any challenging environment, supplies were critical to the success of the expedition, with many of the team on site for over a month searching for the Endurance.

Add in the ability of the Bell aircraft to easily move people from one ice pack to another, and the aircraft became a vital component in the successful location of the wreck.

“We fly our 412s a lot in Antarctica, so we know what to expect. They are always prepared, over and above what we want them to do. They’re reliable and they don’t let us down. It was a very good platform for this specific operation,” added Roseveare.

Although the Endurance will be left where it is, its discovery and the stunning pictures of the ship the world can now enjoy, is, in part, thanks to Ultimate Aviation and the versatility, capability and safety of the Bell 412.

With its location now secured, and the sound of helicopters and icebreakers far above now gone, the ship can return to its eternal slumber nearly two miles under the Antarctic ice.

For more information about Bell, visit the website.





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