Biography of Swedish Balloonist and Explorer Salomon Andree Part 2

About the famous Swedish balloonist and aviator who attempted to fly to the North Pole via balloon.


SALOMON A. ANDREE (1854-1897)

With official backing and a sizable bank account, Andree had a balloon constructed which was 97 ft. high and 67 ft. in diameter and which held 160,000 cu. ft. of hydrogen. In early 1896, the balloon--christened the Eagle--was completed, and Andree chartered the steamship Virgo to transport his expedition to Danes Island near Spitsbergen in the Arctic. Arriving in early summer, Andree built an enormous hangar to house the Eagle. Then he installed a hydrogen generator and inflated the balloon. He fitted it with ropes and sails, loaded it with provisions, and readied it for flight.

To accompany him to the pole, Andree had chosen Dr. Nils Ekholm, a meteorologist, and Dr. Nils Strindberg, a physicist. Through the summer, Andree and his companions anxiously waited for a south wind to carry them north, but the winds persistently blew from the north. In August the captain of the Virgo informed Andree that he had to leave, because his ship's insurance against icebergs expired at the end of the month. Reluctantly, Andree agreed to return to Sweden. Before they left for home, Dr. Ekholm resigned from the expedition because he discovered that the Eagle was plagued by constant leaks.

Andree replaced Ekholm with Knut Fraenkel, a youthful lieutenant in the Swedish Corps of Engineers. After wintering in Sweden, Andree returned to Danes Island in early June and was prepared to go by July 1. A violent storm ravaged their camp, but in its wake came a steady south wind. At this point Andree was undecided, because the winds had been so erratic. He spoke with Strindberg and Fraenkel, who persuaded him to begin the journey. With some misgivings, Andree had the Eagle brought from the hangar, and the three balloonists climbed into the carriage. At 1:45 A.M. on July 11, 1897, Andree ordered the restraining ropes cut. A strong gust wrenched the balloon upward, but as it floated out over the sea, it lost altitude. Just as the carriage struck the icy waters, the three men tossed ballast overboard, and the Eagle rose and drifted northward. The spectators on Danes Island cheered as the Eagle disappeared over the horizon. They were the last people to see Andree alive.

Months and then years passed, and Andree never returned. His fate became a mystery, which it was assumed would never be solved. Then 33 years later, in 1930, sailors from a Norwegian sealing vessel discovered Andree's last camp and the skeletons of the balloonists on White Island, east of Spitsbergen Island. They also found Andree's journal, which told the story of the doomed expedition.

After leaving Danes Island, Andree had floated northward, but serious gas leaks caused the Eagle to lose altitude. On the second day, the Eagle encountered a fog bank, and frost and ice began to encrust the balloon, weighing it down even more. Even though they threw all ballast overboard, the carriage began to strike the polar ice cap. Without any indication of fear, the intrepid Andree wrote, "Shall we be thought mad, or will our example be followed?" In the early morning of July 14, less than three days after their departure, the Eagle crashed on the ice 376 mi. from Danes Island and 480 mi. from the North Pole. The stranded explorers salvaged supplies and sleds from the Eagle and began walking south.

For two and a half months they marched back towards Spitsbergen Island, but the flowing ice carried them eastward, away from their goal. Their morale rose when Andree shot a polar bear. Fresh meat was a welcome treat, but they had trouble cooking it and had to eat it half-raw. Thereafter, Andree shot more bears, so they had plenty to eat.

Finally, in October, 1897, they reached White Island, but died soon afterward. Andree's last, incoherent journal entry was dated Oct. 17-a day before his 43rd birthday. Since they had plenty of food and clothing, they did not starve or freeze to death. In fact, for another 20 years the cause of their deaths remained unknown. In 1949 a Danish doctor, Adam Tryde, read Andree's description of the illness they suffered and guessed the cause of death. Tryde scraped meat from a bearskin which had been found in Andree's camp and had it analyzed. The meat was infected with trichinae. Andree, the first airborne Arctic explorer, and his two companions had died of trichinosis, caused by eating improperly cooked polar bear meat.

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