🔗 Andrée's Arctic Balloon Expedition

🔗 Aviation 🔗 Norway 🔗 Arctic 🔗 Sweden

Andrée's Arctic balloon expedition of 1897 was an effort to reach the North Pole in which all three Swedish expedition members – S. A. Andrée, Knut Frænkel, and Nils Strindberg – perished. Andrée, the first Swedish balloonist, proposed a voyage by hydrogen balloon from Svalbard to either Russia or Canada, which was to pass, with luck, straight over the North Pole on the way. The scheme was received with patriotic enthusiasm in Sweden, a northern nation that had fallen behind in the race for the North Pole.

Andrée ignored many early signs of the dangers associated with his balloon plan. Being able to steer the balloon to some extent was essential for a safe journey, but there was much evidence that the drag-rope steering technique he had invented was ineffective. Worse, the polar balloon Örnen (Eagle) was delivered directly to Svalbard from its manufacturer in Paris without being tested. When measurements showed it to be leaking more than expected, Andrée failed to acknowledge the risk.

After Andrée, Strindberg, and Frænkel lifted off from Svalbard in July 1897, the balloon lost hydrogen quickly and crashed on the pack ice after only two days. The explorers were unhurt but faced a grueling trek back south across the drifting icescape. Inadequately clothed, equipped, and prepared, and shocked by the difficulty of the terrain, they did not make it to safety. As the Arctic winter closed in on them in October, the group ended up exhausted on the deserted Kvitøya (White Island) in Svalbard and died there. For 33 years the fate of the expedition remained one of the unsolved riddles of the Arctic. The chance discovery in 1930 of the expedition's last camp created a media sensation in Sweden, where the dead men had been mourned and idolized.

Andrée's motives and mindset have been the subject of extensive fictional and historical discussion, particularly inspired by his apparent foolhardiness. An early example is Per Olof Sundman's fictionalized bestseller novel of 1967, The Flight of the Eagle, which portrays Andrée as weak and cynical, at the mercy of his sponsors and the media. Modern writers have been generally critical of Andrée.

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