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The Mystery of Andree


The Swedish aeronaut and his two companions departed in their airship sooner than they expected, the wind having reached a favorable stage on the afternoon of July 11. Two of the innumerable perils of ballooning were experienced at the start. One was a threatened collision with a rocky crag and the other a descent until the basket skimmed the water. But the balloon finally got well into the air, and when last seen was moving northeasterly at a speed of twenty-two miles an hour. In that direction, about 400 miles from Dane's Island, the point of departure, is the archipelago of Franz Josef Land. Off to the westward and northwestward about 400 miles is Greenland. On the opposite side of the pole is Alaska, which the balloon could not reach in a direct flight of less than 1300 miles. Beyond Franz Josef Land to the northeast is Siberia. It has been asserted that Andree will reach Alaska if he can, thus traversing the whole unknown polar waste, but he must strike exceptionally steady winds in order to accomplish it.

Prevailing polar winds were closely observed for two years by the Greely party at Fort Conger, which is 1 degree north of Dane's Island. That record, made in the years 1882 and 1883, shows that the breeze in the summer is light and variable, usually from the south, with an average of only four or five miles an hour. The hope of Andree that he will strike a current to carry him straight to the vicinity of the pole, 700 miles away, is not likely to be realized. Only once in two years Greely noted a southerly wind of fifty consecutive hours, and that would have swept a balloon 675 miles. As far as ascertained facts go, a southerly wind near the pole, when it occurs, is not good for a run of more than 200 or 300 miles, and it is subject to variations in direction. Andree expects to steer his balloon 45 degrees away from the wind by means of drag ropes. The idea that he can do it is merely a theory.

No forecast can be made of what is likely to happen to these three intrepid if not reckless explorers in a balloon. They may not get away entirely from the Spitzbergen group, but if they do they must take all the risks of a desperate venture. They are in a region where inhabitants are few, and might land in innumerable places where escape would be impossible. The balloon itself is exposed to countless dangers, and its occupants started without any practical knowledge of its peculiarities. It must be confessed that the chances are rather against ever hearing of the party again. That fate has overtaken some of the best aeronauts who ascended in a civilized region. They drifted off into the air and the rest was silence. In the Arctic solitude such a result is a strong probability.

Reproduced with permission: L.L. Lewis, Explorations (Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2. University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS.



Original Source:

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, St. Louis, MO. July 20, 1896


Jennifer Holvoet, Ph.D.
University of Kansas

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