Adrian Schimnowski and his fellow crew members were speechless when they first realized they may have solved the nearly 170-year-old mystery of what happened to HMS Terror.
It took a moment to realize what was showing up on the echosounder aboard the research vessel, the Martin Bergmann.
“We were guessing what it could be. We thought it would be a school of fish or a boulder,” he told Global News. “But we… realized it was a cross-section of a massive ship.”
Once the cheering subsided, Schimnowski said the crew jumped into action to see what else they could find using sonar.
And when he later watched the first footage, taken by a remote-operated vehicle, and saw how intact it was after 168 years, resting 24 metres below the surface of Terror Bay, off Nunavut’s King William Island, he said it was like “looking at a time capsule.”
“It was like opening a novel that has amazing pictures in it and you keep turning the page to see what else you will find.”
Video shared with Global News shows wood planking on the hull of the Terror, the ship’s wheel still in place, and one of the mess hall tables lying on its side.
Arctic Research Foundation, a private charitable organization, has been working with Parks Canada to locate the two lost ships of the doomed Franklin Expedition’s attempt to chart the Northwest Passage.
Parks Canada said, in a statement, it is “excited” by the reports of the discovery and would work to “validate the details of the discovery.”
The Terror’s sister vessel, HMS Erebus, was located two years ago, resting 11 metres underwater off of Nunavut’s Adelaide Peninsula. Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed the discovery of the Erabus in the House of Commons weeks later.
READ MORE: Harper joins hunt for lost Franklin ships
Schimnowski said their time in the Northwest Passage will come to end in the next week or so, as the weather gets harsher and the Canadian Coast Guard moves out of the Arctic for the season.
In the weeks and months ahead, they’ll begin working with Parks Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard to come up with a plan to start unraveling more of the mystery of how HMS Terror wound up where it did.
But he has some ideas based on what he’s seen so far.
“It looks like it was actually battened down, prepared and winterized,” he explained. “It seems like the crew intentionally left it that way. We don’t see a lot of artifacts on the inside of the vessel and that’s a good sign, I would say, that it was… planned to be left there.”
He said it’s possible HMS Terror was locked in ice and the crew abandoned it to carry on, with the intention of making their way back to the vessel after winter.
It’s long been thought HMS Terror got locked in ice and abandoned, but off the northwestern coast of King William Island — 96 kilometres north of where it was found in Terror Bay.
“We speculate right now… that it was sailed into Terror Bay. There’s an anchor deployed. It gently settled to the bottom of the ocean floor. It’s level.”
Speaking to Global News from Gjoa Haven, a hamlet on the southeast side of Nunavut’s King William Island, Schimnowski said the discovery isn’t just important for solving one of maritime history’s great mysteries, but it also turns worldwide attention to a place of great importance — the Arctic.
“It lets the world know we are operating in the Arctic and we are collaborating with the people of the Arctic, in many different ways.”
Gjoa Haven is home to about 1,100 people, according to the community’s website — including the man who tipped Schimnowski and the Arctic Research Foundation to the Terror’s possible final resting place.
Sammy Kogvik, an Inuk and Canadian Ranger from Gjoa Haven, told Schimnowski how he spotted what resembled a ship’s mast sticking out of the ice of Terror Bay seven years earlier.
Kogvik recalled how he had looked behind him to check on his hunting partner when he spotted a large pole sticking up out of the ice. He took some pictures of what he saw, but realized he lost the camera on the way back home.
Kogvik recounted the story to Schimnowski one night aboard the Martin Bergmann.
“This just shows what is possible when you listen,” Schimnowski said.
With reporting from The Canadian Press