Engineer Andrée’s North Pole expedition of 1897 was an effort to reach the North Pole by a hydrogen balloon in which all three expedition members vanished without a trace. The disappearance was the subject of speculation, rumors and myths for many years.
All speculation ended in 1930 when the crew of the Norwegian sealing vessel Bratvaag by chance landed on White Island near Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean. At this time the island was surrounded by a wide belt of polar ice wich was normally impossible to land on. The summer of 1930 was unusually warm and two of the sealers managed to go on land in search of water. During their search they made a sensational discovery, finding a frozen boat with a boat hook engraved with the words ‘Andrée’s Polar Expedition 1896’. They also found the remains of the three expedition members nearby, along with rolls of film, fragments of clothes, diaries and logbooks, and maps that had been frozen in the ice for 33 years. The ceremonial return of the bodies to Stockholm triggered a widespread national mourning.
The unique expedition material had to be handled with the greatest of care and some of the most talented scientists in Norway and Sweden were chosen for the difficult task. The pages of the diaries were dried together and were carefully separated using ammonia, slowly revealing a gripping story of the men’s futile battle against the ice. The task of bringing the films back to life was extremely complicated, but eventually grainy photos were revealed showing the heavy boat being dragged over tall icebergs.
The equipment also included a Primus stove, with kerosene still left in the burner. The stove was filled with new kerosene as soon as it arrived back in Stockholm although having spent 33 years in the ice, it could bring a liter of water to boil in 6 minutes. There is no doubt that the stove could still be used today.
Despite all the amazing, well-preserved discoveries, research has still not given an exact answer to the question of what happened to the ill-fated trio after their balloon crashed close to the North Pole.