Thursday, August 26, 2004


Robots reach ancient Russian shipwreck


Moscow - Russian divers, with a little help from a state-of-the-art robot, have reached the wreck of a famous icebreaker that has lain untouched for 70 years at the bottom of Russia's far-northern Chukotsky Sea, RIA Novosti news agency said on Monday.

The scientific ship Akademik Lavrentyev left the Arctic port of Anadyr, on Russia's Chukotsky peninsula, last week to reach the spot where the Chelyuskin icebreaker sank in 1934 after becoming trapped in ice.

According to Yevgueny Kupavykh, who heads the scientific expedition, the shipwreck lies 50m under the sea, 250km from Cape Severny and 230km from Cape Uelen, RIA Novosti said.

Kupavykh said that the expedition's divers were trained to work in extreme conditions as the temperature of the water around the wreck hovered the freezing point.A state-of-the-art robot operated by remote control and equipped with video cameras and scanners was also used to explore the wreck of the Cheliuskin.

According to Kupavykh, more information will be available after the expedition's return to Anadyr, planned for Tuesday.The icebreaker Chelyuskin left the port of Murmansk in July 1933 to explore Russia's far northern waters. But it soon became trapped in an icefield in the Chukotsky Sea and drifted with the ice for seven month before finally sinking in February 1934.

About 100 passengers, including a two-year-old child, managed to flee the sinking ship and spent three months in a tent built on the ice before being rescued in a spectacular airlift. No one died in the incident. - Sapa-AFP

See article.


The Loss of Ice-breaker Chelyuskin

The North-East Pssage was important. Along the Siberian coast there were trappers, weather stations and others who needed supplies - food, clothing, machines and medicines. Now, the ice-breaker Chelyuskin was planned to go along the northern coast, and the work was to be finished before the winter. On July 16 1933, the expedition left under Otto Schmidt's command and with Krenkel as Chief Radio Operator. On board were engineers, carpenters and others who should replace people on the Wrangel Island.

The ship advanced slower and slower, and finally it was stuck in the pack-ice. It was clear that everybody had to leave the ice-breaker. Cases and boxes containing rice, canned food, sugar, lemons, onions, blankets, fur coats etc were brought out of the ship. Suddenly the ship was hit by a heavy blow, and then by another one. The forebody was already under the ice. Otto Yulyevich Schmidt gave the ship's log and the scientific observations to the captain and went to Krenkel to have a distress message sent. Krenkel transmitted it, dismantled his radio equipment and carried it onto the ice.

Suddenly the ship rised, stood for a moment almost vertically. A big smoke cloud came out of the funnel. And then, there was nothing left than dark water.

This happened in February 1934. 104 men and women had to encamp on the ice. In the radio tent lived Otto Schmidt, Ernst Krenkel and three others.

"On February 24, we rebuilt the radio tent. We made a table of rough boards and put it in the rear, with accumulators under it and receiver and transmitter on the top of it. The table was my sacred place. I became very angry if someone tried to put a tea mug or a tin-can there. In the tent we also had a small kerosene heater and a lamp. At 0530, Ivanov lighted the heater and melted ice for the tea. I got up a few minutes to six and exchanged weather reports with the mainland at 0600."

Small aircraft could bring a few persons to the mainland each time, provided that the weather was favourable both at Cape Vankarem and the camp on the ice at the same time. The book does not tell the distance, but other sources say that the distance to Cape Wellen was 230 kms. Women and children (there was a two year old child among them!) were evacuated first. 30 men volunteered to be among the last ten, so it was decided that the last 50 should be considered as being "the last ten".

The rescue operation would have been impossible without the radio communication. Lacking modern navigational aid it was still very difficult. Krenkel had to maintain the equipment carefully. In the night the "indoor" temperature was below 0° C, and when the heater was lit, dew appeared in the cold radio gear."I had to take the equipment apart, polish the contacts and let the components dry near the heater. When working with that noone was allowed to talk to me, I cursed and muttered to myself. Schmidt was silent, knowing that the rescue operation depended on the radio equipment."

The night between April 8 and 9 there was a heavy ice-pressure, and the antenna mast was saved in the last moment. The day after, the weather was extraordinary favourable, three aircraft could operate, and one of them could make three round-trip flights. On April 12 (after 7 weeks on the ice) only six men were still to be rescued, and among them was Ernst Krenkel, of course. The following is not printed in the book, but Krenkel has told it to me. He, Schmidt and some others were waiting for the last aircraft. As usual, they had to light a fire so that the pilots could see the smoke. But no firewood was left, so they had to set their fur-coats afire - hoping that they would not be left on the ice another night. However, Krenkel sometimes seemed to apply the Swedish proverb "Small lies adorn your speech". So we will never know for sure.

This story here.

North pole voyages.

USSR stamp from 1935 - Aeral Rescue of Ice - breaker
Chelyuskin Crew and Scientific Expedition

Expedition to rescue the crew of the Icebreaker, 'Chelyuskins', 1934.

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