The Mystery of Andree
October 8, 2007 8:42 AM   Subscribe

In 1897, pioneering Swedish balloonist Salomon August Andrée and two companions took off for the north pole in a hot air balloon. In 1930 their bodies were found, along with records of their expedition. This archive of newspaper articles tells their story. (So does Wikipedia, of course.) Many of the photos they took are here, along with a lot of text in Polish that I can't read any more than most of you can, so don't come complaining to me.
posted by dersins (12 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a rough transcription of how my thoughts formed as I read this post:

In 1897, pioneering Swedish balloonist Salomon August Andrée and two companions took off for the north pole in a hot air balloon....

Hooray for scientific pioneers!

...In 1930 their bodies were found...


Um..... damn.

Still, it's not so bad as far as deadly boondoggles go. I mean, at least they only managed to kill themselves.
posted by Avenger at 9:07 AM on October 8, 2007

dersins, it appears from both the text as well as from the photographs that their balloon was a hydrogen balloon, not a hot air balloon.
posted by ranchocalamari at 9:12 AM on October 8, 2007

Ballooning rules, almost as much as flying zeppelins. Andree was not the first to die in an effort to pilot lighter than air craft over the pole.

One should recall that the turn of the century, when Andree and others attempted this, predates the widespread use of fossil fuel derivatives like propane or gasoline. Only coal and wood were available for generating heat in a mobile context, and the weight in carrying enough of these fuels to generate the heat for a hot air balloon would have been prohi9bitive. As such, the balloons or airships had to be filled with hydrogen, which had its own problems, namely that it was difficult to keep the balloon inflated without the hydrogen leaking.

The feat was accomplished in the mid twenties by famed Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, who by that time had already been to the South Pole and back. Amundsen flew over the North Pole in an Italian-made airship, the Norge. Depending on whose account you believe, Amundsen's may have been the first expedition to make it to the north pole, regardless of the means. The Norge, was not technically a zeppelin (it lacked a fully rigid skeleton and it shape was to a degree depending on the internal gas pressure), though Amundsens achievement help to promote the use of semi-rigid, and then rigid frames in airship construction.

Rather ironically, hot-air balloon rides over the pole are somewhat routine, while airships like the Norge and its successors the zeppelins, are things of the past.

But all airships, be they balloons or blimps or zeppelins, have an elegance and dignity that is lacking in modern air travel.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:14 AM on October 8, 2007

More photos (from the site of the official Andrée Museum in Gränna).

One of the things I find fascinating whith this whole drama is the stupid/heroic/scientific aspect of it. Something for everybody! It's kind of the same thing with Wasa, a completely useless boat which nowadays is one of Stockholm's biggest tourist attractions.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2007

dersins, it appears from both the text as well as from the photographs that their balloon was a hydrogen balloon, not a hot air balloon.

Good point. Sorry. I'm intellectually lazy when it comes to lighter than air craft, and tend to refer to anything that looks like a balloon as a "hot air balloon."

My bad. I'd ask a moderator to edit my post for me, but I think my error should stand as testament to my sloppiness.
posted by dersins at 9:17 AM on October 8, 2007

If there's an award for suppressing evidence and/or self-delusion, Andrée is a clear winner.
posted by tommasz at 9:30 AM on October 8, 2007

Wow. This story really moves me.

From Wikipedia:

On September 12, the explorers resigned themselves to wintering on the ice and camped on a large floe, letting the ice take them where it would, "which", writes Kjellström, "it had really been doing all along"...

"Posterity has expressed surprise that they died on Kvitøya, surrounded by food," writes Kjellström (p. 54). "The surprise is rather that they found the strength to live so long".

The accounts are so passionate. Those men probably despaired many, many times over the months, but persisted so amazingly. I can only imagine that when death finally came, it was an incredible relief. The idea of spending one's final few months in relative solitude under such strange and embattled circumstances actually seems to me an incredible way to die.
posted by hermitosis at 9:34 AM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

The photos in the photo link are amazing. I kept thinking, This is Herzog's Fitzcaraldo, set in the North Pole.

posted by From Bklyn at 9:44 AM on October 8, 2007

The safety of the expedition is explained to be so great that at the most urgent extremity 2,000 kilometers must be thrown out to keep the balloon aloof (sic), the expedition still having a boat, clothes and provisions for four months and a half, instruments, firearms and ammunition for fifteen hundred shots. One should think that this does not mean shipwreck in the polar regions.

So it was a failure in SI units. Had they jettisoned 2000 kilograms instead of 2000 kilometers, they probably would have survived.
posted by three blind mice at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2007

19 lipca Andrée upolował pierwszego polarnego niedźwiedzia. Następnego dnia Fraenkel miał biegunkę. Według późniejszej teorii, to mięso z tego niedźwiedzia zakaziło ich trychiną (włośnicą).

Damn. Imagine getting that far in a damned balloon and surviving the crash, the ice, the hike, and the cold, living for weeks in the arctic, and even managing to kill and eat polar bears, but then being offed by a tiny worm.

A lesson for those of you who dare their bear fare rare.
posted by pracowity at 10:30 AM on October 8, 2007

Wow. I can only quote the Hazelton Sentinel, July 21, 1897: "There is about it something fantastic that fascinates."

Thanks for a riveting hour's worth of reading, dersins.
posted by jokeefe at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2007

There was a movie of this story made in Sweden in 1982, released in the US as Flight of the Eagle (link is in Swedish, but the film is available in the US with English subtitles).
posted by ga$money at 2:18 PM on October 8, 2007

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