Salomon August Andrée is arguably the world's most infamous explorer who wasn't ACTUALLY an explorer. Andrée was a Swedish engineer known for his failed attempt at reaching the North Pole via hot air balloon. Andrée and his two crew members, Knut Frænkel and Nils Strindberg all perished during the ill-fated expedition.
The trip began on July 11th, 1897 with the three men launching from Dane's Island in Svalbard, Norway. Although the date has never been confirmed, Andrée kept a diary during the trip, and his final entry was written on October 8th. It is suggested that the men died shortly after.
What went wrong?
Well, let's start with the fact that they tried reaching the Northern most point of the world in a hydrogen balloon. To his credit Andrée realized that if he were to reach the North Pole, he wasn't going to do it by sea or by land as the weather conditions and treacherous terrain wouldn't be very accommodating.
Instead, the engineer chose to go the balloon route. After developing a rig using drag ropes (something that hadn't been successfully tested) Andrée felt confident enough in letting the winds carry the men in their preferred direction while he fine-tuned the steering. This of course relied on the balloon actually staying airborne for weeks on end and staying free of snow, ice, and other debris.
Right off the bat, however, over 400 pounds of sand was dumped out of the basket after touching water upon liftoff. Although the crew was airborne for a total of 2 days and 3 hours, the balloon was eventually grounded due to thickening fog and collisions with the ice below. Unfortunately, the men landed 300 miles south of the North Pole.
An air-focused expedition had just turned into an ice-covered land excursion. With sleds in tow, the next three months would take a physical toll on Andrée, Strindberg, and Frænkel.
The men would eat biscuits and drink water. They had rifles and would hunt polar bears and seals for food. Honestly, they were fairly well-prepared, all things considered. But as the temperatures dropped, so did the crew's morale.
After trying to race the moving ice blocks, the men realized wind and water were only taking them further off course. They decided to seek refuge and make their way toward a depot on the Seven Islands. Things quickly went from bad to worse.
Between the snow blindness, injured knee, and diarrhea, Frænkel was in rough shape. The men had packed both opium and morphine and that was pretty much their only lifeline. At one point Andrée thought it'd be a good idea to eat polar bear meat raw. They also dined on some of Strindberg's algae soup.
According to a September 17th journal entry, the men had concluded that reaching the depot would not be possible. They were pinned down by wind and snow.
Cause of death.
On top of everything else, Frænkel was dealing with a blister on his foot which made walking nearly impossible. The men fed on the last of their polar bear meat, as well as some seals which Andrée had shot and killed. His final journal entry reads, "We shall have to gather driftwood and bones of whales and will have to do some moving around when the weather permits."
There are many theories on how the men died, the most popular being cold and exhaustion. Some believe that the men could've been poisoned by the metal of their drinking cans. Others feel that botulism is a very realistic theory as the crew were eating polar bear liver and raw seal.
Historians theorized that Strindberg may have gone bear-hunting, fallen through the ice, and drowned. Some also think that a bear may have attacked Andrée, as he was found dead with a rifle in hand. Dehydration and an accidental gunshot wound have also been hypothesized.
In the end, this "March of Death" would go down in history as one of the most fascinating and horrific expeditions our world would ever know.