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Log from Doomed 1912 Arctic Expedition Unearthed

A sailor's log from a 1912 Arctic expedition through the Northeast Passage was unearthed on an ice-covered land mass in northern Europe, Russian explorers said today (Sept. 13).

The log chronicled the legendary Arctic expedition that vanished as the crew attempted to plow through the ice-choked Northeast Passage (now more commonly called the Northern Sea Route) in 1912. Until now, the fate of the adventurer Georgy Brusilov captain of the first Russian crew to seek the elusive Arctic trade route from Asia to the West was unknown, and inspired a generation of books and films. But the famed voyagers' remains and a journal dated to May 1913 from aboard their vessel, the Saint Anna were found this summer on the icy shores of Franz Josef Land, Europe's northernmost land mass, Discovery News reported.

"There is no doubt that the skeletons and notebook pages we found at the end of July on Franz Josef Land are the remains of Georgy Brusilov's expedition which were thought forever lost," said research team member Oleg Prodan, who led the mission in the expedition's footsteps, according to Discovery News.

Franz Josef Land is an archipelago of 191 ice-covered islands located in the Arctic Ocean far north of Russia and about 560 miles (900 kilometers) from the North Pole. Though the islands have no native inhabitants, Russian settlers have lived there.

Nearly a century ago, midway into its epic journey along the Siberian coast, after navigating the Vilkitsky Strait into the Kara Sea, the expedition became locked in sea ice. The ship drifted northward with the ice. The crew hoped that the summer would see the ice melt and set the ship free, but that wasn't the case.

One of its only two survivors, navigator Valerian Albanov, described in his memoirs two grueling winters clinging to the doomed ship and floating ever closer to the North Pole.

Albanov was one of 11 of the 24-member crew who abandoned the ice-locked vessel and set out across the snow drifts seeking firm land in a desperate trek depicted in Soviet-era Russian author Veniamin Kaverin's popular novel "Two Captains." Albanov and one other sailor were rescued by another expedition in Franz Josef Land.

Until now, the Saint Anna and the rest of the crew that stuck with the ship had vanished without a trace.

But pages of the sailor's log, found well-preserved in the frigid north, offer glimpses into the lingering fight for survival aboard the ship.

"Today we got our last brick of tobacco; the matches ran out long ago," the log reads, adding that the crew hunted polar bears as they struggled on low supplies.

Other relics of the ill-fated expedition were also found near the site: a watch, snowshoes, a knife, a spoon engraved with a sailor's initials and sunglasses made from the glass of empty rum bottles.

"It was so overwhelming to find those sunglasses, which we had all been able to imagine so well after Albanov's description," mission-member Vladimir Melnikov said at a press conference in Moscow, according to news reports.

Live Science Staff
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