Roald Amundsen - Lost in the Arctic

Roald Amundsen 


Latham 47


Map of the North Pole
Roald Amundsen was the world’s greatest polar explorer. The Norwegian was the first to cross the Northwest Passage, he won the spectacular race to the South Pole against his rival, Robert F. Scott, and he led a pioneering expedition across the Arctic Ocean. But in the end, a revolutionary method of transport became his nemesis – the airplane. On June 18th, 1928, Amundsen boarded the Latham 47, a sea-plane bound for Spitsbergen, Norway. He was accompanied by a crack team of French Air Force pilots. Extraordinarily, Roald Amundsen wanted to save his fiercest rival: Umberto Nobile. The Italian general and aviator had crashed his airship Italia on a return voyage from the North Pole. Nobile and his surviving crew members found themselves drifting helplessly on the pack ice of the Arctic Circle.

Amundsen was asked to join the rescue operation. It would be the final mission of his epic and controversial life: At 6.45 p.m. on that day in June, one last radio message was picked up from Amundsen’s aircraft – then, there was silence…

80 years later, in 2008, an expedition community was founded consisting of the Maritime Combat Service & Support in The Royal Norwegian Navy (MARLOG), the Aviation Museum in Bodø, Kongsberg Maritime AS and Context TV GmbH. In August 2009, this group of experts embarked on a large-scale naval expedition in search of Latham 47.

Both the Norwegian Navy and the Norwegian Coast Guard contributed one of their finest ships to the mission. Together, they searched for the wreck of Amundsen’s plane with a fully automatic sonar system in order to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of the legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen.


 
The search and its results
Expedition leader Rob McCallum


Navy ship KV "Harstad"


Kongsberg AUV "Hugin 1000"
                                   

Vessel "Kvitholmen"

The expedition to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of the French twin-engine flying boat “Latham 47” and the great Norwegian Polar explorer Roald Amundsen took place in the Barents Sea from the 24th of August to the 5th of September 2009. Despite several promising leads and an extensive search effort, it was not possible to produce tangible results. Rob McCallum, the expedition leader, explains the results as follows: “We have searched using all of the clues gathered over the last 10 years, including a public ‘open commission’ into the Latham’s disappearance. We have deployed some of the most advanced equipment in the world in our efforts to find the Latham. We can say definitively that the aircraft is not within these 35 sq miles of ocean, but we cannot say where it is.” McCallum is disappointed with the results, but he is thrilled to have been a part of an unforgettable experience. McCallum suggests two possibilities for the failure to find the Latham:

The first is that the data used could contain an error. The primary clue was a position report given in 1933 by the captain of a fishing vessel that snared a large piece of metallic debris. His position was given as both a depth and a bearing to Bear Island. It is entirely possible that with a rudimentary compass, a pitching vessel and the passage of 75 years, the information may have altered. The second, and very real possibility, is that the Latham was there, but has since been either removed from the site or completely destroyed by the massive amount of industrial fishing activity over the last decades. When watching the sonar data of the sea floor, the expedition crew rarely had a screen that was not criss-crossed by trawler drag-marks, and in much of the search area the scouring of the sea floor is complete.

Nevertheless the expedition members hailed the trip as a great adventure and were especially impressed by the efficiency of the crew aboard the ships HNoMS Tyr and CG Harstad.
The disappearance of the legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen, his flying vessel the Latham 47 and his crew, however, still remains a mystery.

McCallum’s last blog post offers a few apt closing remarks: “It has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with the people involved in Operation Latham. Amundsen’s last days are an interesting story indeed and I am hoping that our research and our efforts can now provide a documentary that will tell this story of this iconic man and his brave crew that has waited far too long to be told.”