Shackleton’s Crew Rescued

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100 years ago yesterday (August 30th, 1916) Shackleton returned to Elephant Island to rescue the rest of his crew who were stranded when their ship, the Endurance, was crushed by sea ice in an attempt to reach Antarctica.  They set out in 1914 with the goal of transecting Antarctica, but the expedition quickly turned into an unforgettable rescue.

April 24, 1916, Shackleton and 5 others sailed in a glorified lifeboat from Elephant Island with the goal of reaching a whaling station in South Georgia to raise the alarm to rescue the 22 men left at Elephant Island.  Sailing from Elephant Island to South Georgia involves crossing the windiest place on Earth, with the biggest waves and strongest currents.  If the wind blew in the wrong direction, they would miss South Georgia.  If they passed the island in the night, they would miss it.  If they approached the coast the wrong way, their boat and contents would be hurled by the waves and smashed against the jagged rocky shore.  The clouds covered the sun most of the time, so calculating their location and deciding their heading was almost impossible, and the odds of reaching this tiny island in the vast Southern Ocean were extremely small.

May 10, 1916, they miraculously landed on South Georgia, but on the opposite side from the whaling station.  Three of the men could not make the journey across the island, so they stayed in a cave near the landing spot.  The three others had to climb treacherous peaks in unforgiving winds and harsh wet snow and had to cross glaciers with invisible crevasses that could swallow all of them easily.  Modern mountaineers take several days to cross this range with modern equipment.  It took Shackleton, Crean, and Worsley 36 hours.

After multiple rescue attempts (May 23, June 10, July 12) with ships from various nations, the sea ice finally permitted passage of the Yelcho through to Elephant Island on August 30th.  All crew members survived.

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