UVic research engineer Alison Proctor kneels beside a Bluefin-12 AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) that will be used in the Arctic this summer to help locate the lost ships from the Sir John Franklin expedition in 1845.

UVic launches Arctic search for sunken wreckage of Franklin expedition

A great Canadian mystery could be solved next month, as the University of Victoria joins Parks Canada’s search for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin in the Northwest Passage.

A great Canadian mystery could be solved next month, as the University of Victoria joins Parks Canada’s search for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin in the Northwest Passage.

In 1845, 129 men set sail on the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus to explore the Northwest Passage and find a safe route from Europe to the Orient. The Franklin expedition was meant to last three years but after just 18 months, the vessels disappeared.

On Aug. 9, a three-person engineering and operating team from UVic’s Ocean Technology Lab, along with their autonomous underwater vehicle, the Bluefin-12 will join a crew from Parks Canada to search the waters off Nunavut’s King William Island.

“In cold water like that, these ships are fairly-well preserved, so we hope that there will be a significant amount of them left,” said Alison Proctor, spokesperson for the UVic lab.

Pre-programmed with co-ordinates and monitored during each mission, the $800,000-vehicle will move 100 per cent autonomously when submerged.

“The vehicle is smart enough to know when something’s going wrong and it will surface and let us know that it encountered something,” Proctor said of the Bluefin-12, which usually operates in Saanich Inlet.

“We’re now headed up to completely unfamiliar territory,” she said. “I think we’re all going to be surprised at what is thrown at us and we’re going to have to adapt fairly quickly. It won’t be freezing conditions for the crew to endure, but it will definitely be harsher than we’re used to.”

The search marks Parks Canada’s third attempt at locating Franklin’s ships. In 2010, a Parks Canada research team found the HMS Investigator, one of the vessels that had been searching for the missing Franklin expedition when she sank 155 years ago.

nnorth@saanichnews.com

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