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Archaeologists out of luck on latest quest to unearth famed Arctic shipwreck

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

Archeologists in the Arctic hoping to find Sir John Franklin's long-lost ships neared the end of their latest search Friday with no shipwreck in sight.

It appears HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two of the most sought-after wrecks in Canada, will remain undiscovered for now.

Parks Canada archeologists spent the last six days combing an area west of King William Island, in Nunavut where explorers seeking the Northwest Passage stopped or, in the case of Franklin, got stranded in ice.

Erebus and Terror vanished in the High Arctic more than 160 years ago, along with the famous British explorer and 128 crew.

This was the third year of a three-year-program to find Erebus and Terror, but searches for the two ships and remnants of Franklin's failed 1845 expedition began almost immediately after he disappeared.

No decision on extension

Marc-Andre Bernier, Parks Canada's chief of underwater archeology, says it is too soon to say whether the search program might be extended beyond this year.

Crews in two boats have been using sonar to map the ocean floor, he said. But a plan to use a new underwater robotic vehicle fell apart.

"We weren't able to deploy it," he said. "We're hoping if we continue next year, that's going to be available, but unfortunately for this year, we ran into some technical problems at the last minute, so that actually could not be used on this survey"

Even if Erebus and Terror remain lost, Bernier said, the expedition, run from the coast guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier, has been useful for mapping the area.

Similar searches were conducted in 2010 and 2008, when small bits of copper sheeting were uncovered that may have belonged to Franklin's ships.

A search effort was called off in 2009 because Parks Canada could not secure a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker to assist with the project.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.