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10 of the Most Doomed Expeditions in History

Everyone has heard about historical expeditions that have been taken by brave adventurers in search of specific findings. This article aims to cover famous expeditions that didn’t go as planned and resulted tragically in a loss of life. Here are ten of the most doomed expeditions in history.

Robert Falcon Scott’s South Expedition

Doomed Expeditions Robert Falcon Scott’s South Expedition

Robert Falcon Scott was a British explorer who embarked an expedition to Antarctica in the year 1910, also known as the Terra Nova expedition. Robert Falcon made the journey with the aim of scientific observations. There were a total of 65 men who undertook the voyage, and they were equipped with dogs, food, clothes and other necessities.

Everything went as planned, and their work was finished as intended, but everything went south when they tried to return home, misfortune struck as they couldn’t meet with the dog teams, the temperature dropped severely, and the crew members caught scurvy and frostbite. In the end, none of them could make it out alive.[1]

Douglas Mawson Expedition

Douglas Mawson Doomed Expeditions

Douglas Mawson otherwise fully known as Sir Douglas Mawson knighted in 1914 upon his return to Australia from a horrific and heroic journey. After proving to be an exemplary scholar and one of the best geologists of his time, Mawson set his eyes on exploring the uncharted lands of merciless Antarctica. Along with his crew consisting of a Ski Champion from Switzerland named Xavier Mertz and an officer from Britain Belgrave Ninnis, Mawson was about to embark on a 122-day sled journey. A journey that would force Douglas Mawson not only to cope with starvation, severe exhaustion, blizzards, and frostbite but also the death of his entire crew leaving him to be the only survivor then. Mawson and Mertz lost their companion who had fallen down a hidden crevasse along with most of their supplies and best dogs.

They then had to stagger and struggle on back to their base with limited food and water supplies. They unwillingly resorted to eating one of their dogs. This saw to their hunger while simultaneously poisoning them causing hair loss eventually. Mertz was the next to die at the hands of cruel Antarctica. Suffering extreme exhaustion and vigorous seizures Xavier Mertz died in his sleep roughly 100kms from safety. Mawson journeyed on alone in weather that stripped the skin from his body. He arrived at his destination just hours late, missing the boat that had come to rescue him. Douglas had to remain with the six other explorers who had waited for him for another year.[2]

The British Mount Everest Expedition of 1922

The British Mount Everest Expedition of 1922

This was the first expedition taken by the British to conquer Mount Everest, this was also the first time bottled oxygen was used, and in this case, there were a total of 17 people. The group took the route from Lakhpa La in Tibet to climb the summit. As they climbed, the crew made camps at several heights, but to reach the summit, they needed to climb North Col which was known to be extremely difficult.

The group tried three times first without oxygen, second with oxygen, but it was the third attempt that proved to be truly disastrous. On June 7, while trying to climb further, they were hit by an avalanche leaving seven people buried under the snow. Six bodies were recovered while one body was never retrieved.[3]

The Expedition of Panfilo De Narvaez

The Expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez

Panfilo de Narvaez was a Spanish explorer who undertook an expedition to Florida, like most explorers, in search of fortune. He set sail in April 1527 with five ships and 600 men. It took him almost one year, reaching Florida by April 1528. But what awaited them was something entirely outside of their expectations, 300 men had deserted the expedition after they arrived in Florida, and they faced much hostility from the natives. Panfilo de Narvaez made critical mistakes such as dividing his crew along with other flawed tactics.

He soon aborted the mission to retreat, but they had no boat to return home. Panfilo de Narvaez ordered his crew to start making rafts; they even resorted to melted their helmets to make axes and such. Eventually, when they boarded the rafts and made an attempt to return home, almost all of them died except for four of them. Unfortunately, Panfilo de Narvaez was not one of them.[4]

S. A. Andree’s Arctic Expedition

S. A. Andree's Arctic Expedition

Unlike the expedition of Douglas Dawson, the S.A Andres Arctic expedition was one that ended with no survivors. A Swedish balloonist S.A Andres along with his two companions Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel set out on a doomed journey. In July of 1897, the trio began their expedition, leaving Svalbard in a Hydrogen balloon to make history and sail over the north pole only to make a different kind of history. After two hours of flight, the balloon lost hydrogen and crashed into the Arctic desert.

All three men perished at the wrath of the harsh weather of the Arctic and lost their lives trying to survive on land. What happened to them remained a mystery until 1930 when their bodies were found in a very decayed state. Very little of their remains were intact, some even scattered as their bodies were ravished by bears. Astonishingly some of their equipment was retrievable such diaries and even films that were discovered. Sadly no other signs of life from other members.[5]

The USS Jeanette Expedition of 1879

The USS Jeanette Expedition of 1879

USS Jeanette was an American Navy vessel which undertook the expedition of the North Pole via the Bering Strait under Lieutenant commander George Washington DeLong. They started the journey from San Fransisco on 8 July 1879, and while it went well for the first few months, on 4th September 1879, the vessel was caught in park ice and started drifting northwest for the next 21 months.

On May 1881 they sighted an island, but soon they were crushed by ice and abandoned the ship to three supply boats. The three boats tumbled through the vast ocean for two months but eventually got separated. Lt. Commander Long’s boat was stranded, and although two men searched for help when help finally came, all of the men along with Lt. Commander Long were already dead.[6]

The Apollo 1 Expedition

Doomed Expeditions The Apollo 1 crew

Intended to be the very first manned mission in what would be a lengthy programme to send the first men to the moon, was the United States Apollo program. Apollo one was not set for the three-person crew to reach the moon but to test various essential technologies in outer space. The team consisted of Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffe the only one of the three who had not yet entered the depths of space. The Apollo 1 mission followed a series of Gemini and Mercury Missions that took place around the 1960s and went as planned.

The mission is the first of its kind had also been the first to claim the lives of the three talented astronauts. They were set to launch on the 21st of February 1967 on a 14-day mission. Unfortunately, during a launch test performed on the 27th of January 1967 in preparation for their mission, Apollo 1 ended. There had been a fire had in the cabin of the spacecraft during their test, and despite the astronauts’ efforts to escape in time, it was too late. The fire had consumed them, and all three astronauts died within one minute.[7]

The Corte-Real Brothers

The Corte-Real Brothers

Miguel and Gaspar Corte Real were the Portuguese born sons of João Vaz Corte Real, a nobleman from Portugal. Miguel was an explorer who participated in many expeditions sailing to the North Atlantic in the 16th century. Gaspar, the younger brother of the two, went on to become an explorer himself as but for the crown of Portugal. The King of Portugal King Manoel commanded the beginning of sailing expeditions to the North Atlantic in hopes to find new lands. Gaspar was among the crew of these explorers and set sail to later set his sights on either Greenland or Newfoundland. Gaspar returned to Portugal and set sail for the North Atlantic once again.

His brother was believed to be aboard one of the ships that accompanied him. Gaspar had taken some natives prisoner and sent them back to Portugal. Miguel traveled back to Portugal with another ship although Gaspar was not on it and was missing. Miguel sent forth another expedition in search of his brother that consisted of three ships. Only two returned with the other on which Miguel was boarded, missing as well. No one could ever figure out what had happened to the Corte Real brothers.[8]

The Donner Party

The Donner Party

The Donner party otherwise knows as the Donner-Reed party was one of the most unfortunate groups to have come across a trail known as Hastings cutoff in 1846. Providing the belief that it would be a much shorter journey as opposed to traveling along the Chicago trail and Oregon trail to get to California. The party consisted of about 90 people and 20 wagons led by George Donner and James F. Reed. By the time the party reached Great Salt Lake desert, they had been slowed down by having to travel on steep and rough terrain and often stopping to clear the way for their wagons to pass through.

Many families had to abandon their animals and even carriages. It was estimated to have taken them an entire month to get back to the main trail. This resulted in a more tragic fate as their path was blocked with snow when they reached the Sierra Nevada mountains. The unforeseen circumstances forced the party to spend the whole winter in the mountains. Some people formed a separate party to march through the snow and find help. They endured 33 days of harsh conditions that were so severe they had to resort to cannibalism. The party was eventually found and rescued although unfortunately, 45 of them had lost their lives during this horrific journey.[9]

Percy Fawcett & the Lost City of Z

Percy Fawcett & the Lost City of Z

It was the most mysterious expedition of the 20th century known to man. All this began with a man named Percy Fawcett. A British explorer and military lieutenant fascinated with the uncharted land the unexplored Amazon jungles of South America had to offer. Having made multiple expeditions into areas of South America deemed inhabitable to humankind by scientists. Areas that were said to be home to dangerous and deadly animals as well as insects like mosquitoes that carried lethal diseases.

Percy Fawcett would make one final expedition shrouded in mystery in search of something great on April 20th of 1925. The last known communication made by Percy who was accompanied by his son, a friend, two laborers, two dogs, two horses and eight mules was to his wife. In the letter sent, he said he had reached a place known as Dead Horse camp. Percy made it clear for them to send no one after them if they were not to make contact again. They stated to have planned to stay for a year but when two years had passed search teams were sent to find them. It is believed that roughly 100 rescuers died trying to see Percy and his fate.[10]

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