Photograph, Roald Amundsen in Bergen, 1928
Photo of Roald Amundsen before boarding Latham 47.02 on 17 June 1928. On the back, in handwriting in Norwegian: “Roald Amundsen’s last farewell to Bergen, 18 June 1928. Sincerely, Hans B. Fasmer.” Fasmer was a Bergen businessman and politician.
1928 Latham expedition
25 May 1928
It is around 10.30 a.m.
Some 110 kilometres north of Svalbard, Umberto Nobile‘s airship Italia hovers uncontrollably above the icy Arctic Ocean. On board are sixteen men and a fox terrier on their way home from the North Pole, but strong winds and icing are causing havoc.
They have been struggling for control for several hours, but now the airship is heading straight for the ice. The gondola containing the crew thunders into the frozen surface, and ten men are thrown across it.
The six men still on board when the airship rises will never be seen again.
The same day, Roald Amundsen is at the Ski Museum at Frognerseteren in Oslo, standing in front of the exhibition displaying the equipment he used on the South Pole expedition seventeen years earlier. Next to him is the American pilot Carl Ben Eielson, who is in Norway with the Australian George Hubert Wilkins after making the first successful flight from Alaska to Svalbard. Amundsen is one of several to ensure they receive their deserved tribute in Norway.
Later in the evening, Amundsen is on stage in the large hall of the Colosseum cinema. In front of an audience two thousand strong, Amundsen introduces the lecture from Eielson and Wilkins. National anthems are played and cheers resound from the hall.
The contrast is huge between the festivities in Oslo and the struggle unfolding in the Arctic Ocean.
26 May 1928
It’s been more than a day since anyone heard from the airship Italia. The newspapers carry rumours about possible rescue missions. The world does not yet know what happened.
In Oslo, the party continues. A procession with flag-adorned cars is on its way out to Bygdøy, outside the city centre. They stop at the Norwegian Folk Museum and the Viking Ship Museum, before driving down to the “Dronningen” restaurant by the sea. The newspaper Aftenposten is hosting a celebratory lunch in honour of Wilkins and Eielson.
It is a glorious summer day and several of the country’s polar personalities have been invited.
But over the course of lunch, Aftenposten’s editor-in-chief, Frøis Frøisland, is disturbed twice. First comes a telegram from the journalist Odd Arnesen, who announces that the Italian ship Città di Milano is now getting ready to head north to search for the airship Italia.
Talk begins to go around the table, and among experienced men the opinions are many.
Soon after, a new message is delivered to Frøisland. This time it is the Norwegian Minister of Defence, Torgeir Anderssen-Rysst, who wonders if Roald Amundsen and Otto Sverdrup can meet in his office to discuss a possible Norwegian rescue mission.
“Right away,” answers Amundsen in English, before continuing in Norwegian, “answer that I am ready immediately.” Sverdrup, who is sitting above, nods his head calmly in agreement.
But eventually everyone realizes that the situation is complicated. Italy, led by Benito Mussolini, does not want to send out a Norwegian rescue expedition, and, according to some sources, especially not if Roald Amundsen is involved. Amundsen has made himself a controversial figure in Italy after the expedition with the airship Norge in 1926.
After the meeting with the Minister of Defence, Amundsen goes down to Victoria Hotel, where his good friend Herman Gade arranges a private party in honour of Wilkins and Eielson. When asked about the meeting with the minister, Amundsen answers,
“We agreed to give it a few days. If something significant happens during Pentecost, I will be notified immediately. For practical reasons, I am staying here at the hotel.”
On the Monday, Amundsen goes home to Svartskog.
In the first days of June, radio signals from Nobile and his men are picked up and optimism rises. At the same time, Amundsen receives a message from his American good friend Lincoln Ellsworth, who says he can provide money if Amundsen manages to organize his own rescue expedition. Amundsen is excited. So, too, are the public, as applications pour in to Uranienborg from people who want to join.
It is during these days that Amundsen is visited by the Italian journalist Davide Giudici at home at Uranienborg. They sit down in the green chairs in the living room.
“What is indispensable, is the utmost speed and energy.” says Amundsen when Guidici asks him about the chances of survival of Nobile and his men. And about the relationship with Nobile, the man he has previously criticized publicly, Amundsen describes a common bond of solidarity, shared by all polar explorers, that is stronger than personal resentments in such situations as now. “Today I see one thing only,” he says, “General Nobile and his companions are in danger, and it is necessary to do everything that is humanly possible to save them.”
About his own plan, he can say that he is currently in the process of selecting the best pilots, mechanics and radio operators: “The question is not who will arrive first or who will do the most, but that the situation is growing worse from day to day.”
Several times during the interview, Amundsen gets up and goes to the radio to hear if there is anything new about the Italians. But each time he returns to his chair disappointed. From the ceiling above them hangs a model of the Dornier Wal aircraft Amundsen used on his North Pole attempt in 1925. Amundsen looks up at it, drifts away for a moment and says,
“Ah! If you only knew how splendid it is up there! That’s where I want to die; and I wish only that death will come to me chivalrously, will overtake me in the fulfilment of a high mission, quickly, without suffering. And this I hope for, because for over thirty years, from the time of the Belgian expedition in 1897, I have learned to defend myself well against the scurvy, the only danger I need seriously fear in those regions.”📜
14 June 1928
On 14 June, Norwegian newspapers print the news that Roald Amundsen will stay at home📜. Ellsworth’s funds will not stretch. But there is something the newspapers don’t know. Around midday, the phone rings at home at Uranienborg. It will be the turning point for Amundsen. When he lifts the receiver, Amundsen hears the voice of the influential Norwegian merchant in Paris, Fredrik Peterson. Peterson wants to assist Amundsen and has already been in talks with people in France who can raise an aircraft. Amundsen emphasizes that he cannot use an ordinary plane, that he needs an flying boat. Peterson will see what he can do.
Before hanging up, Amundsen is said to have said: “Yes, this was such a pleasure. Thank you very much.“
It’s evening when Peterson calls again. A flying boat is now available, Latham 47.02.
With a French crew of four, the plane will be able to take off in two days and meet Amundsen in Bergen.
At Latham’s factories in Caudebec-en-Caux and at Amundsen’s home in Svartskog, intense preparations begin.
At 10 o’clock on the evening of 16 June, the French flying boat lands in the city fjord in Bergen and is towed to Marineholmen. That same evening, a crowd flocks around the carriages of the Bergen train at Østbanen in Oslo. In the middle of the crowd are Roald Amundsen and the pilot Leif Dietrichson. Three years earlier, Dietrichson had shown his qualities during the expedition to 88 degrees north, and Amundsen thought him “too good a man not to be used now.” 📜 So room would be made for both of them on board the Latham.
Together with Roald’s nephew Gustav “Goggen” Amundsen and the ever-loyal Oscar Wisting, who will accompany them to Bergen and then continue to Svalbard by boat, they prepare to board the night train that will take them over the mountains.
The small entourage enters a second class compartment, but before the train steams out of the station, a young woman suddenly steps in hesitantly. She asks if she can give Amundsen one last handshake:
“I must apologize for my boldness, but I’m just doing what thousands in this moment feel the urge to. Be careful now! Norway cannot afford to lose a son like you.”📜
At the last station before the train rolls into Bergen, a journalist enters the polar explorers’ compartment. “What’s the most important piece of equipment you are taking on your rescue mission with the Latham?” he asks Amundsen. “It is firstly skis and sledges, collapsible boats, and otherwise other polar equipment from my previous travels, provisions, biscuits and chocolate, etc.” Amundsen replies, also mentioning that it was now, at this time of year, “very foggy in the polar regions. It will also make the search more difficult.”📜
It is 11 o’clock on the morning of June 17 when they emerge onto the platform at Bergen railway station. Here, too, the public have turned out. Among them are the French consul and several of the French flight crew from Latham 47.02.
“While the cameras snapped and the cameramen cranked, Amundsen and his companions finally got out of the station and into the Hotel Terminus,” reports Bergens Arbeiderblad📜.
Amundsen has reserved room 503 to give them the opportunity to discuss the onward journey. In the fireplace room at Hotel Terminus, the Press are waiting. Here Amundsen repeats the message that it is now a matter of saving lives: “The potatoes that should have been tended at home at Svartskog will have to wait a while, while a new chapter is being prepared for ‘My life as an explorer’.”📜
Journalists also have questions about the Latham. “What will happen if the machine comes into contact with ice in one of the leads?” they ask the captain René Guilbaud. “The machine does not bear much of that kind of stress. But it is probably impossible to start on the ice with this machine in the same way as with N 25. However, we can hope for the best,” replies Guilbaud📜. During the stay in Bergen, the Latham has been refilled with petrol, oil and water. Also, a hole discovered on the underside of the port wing float has been patched with a copper plate.
The time is 18:25 when Amundsen and Dietrichson are taken out to the Latham. As the small rowing boat sets off, cheers resound from thousands of people on shore and in boats on the fjord. Wisting, who has gone along to wave goodbye, is standing watching with Goggen: “The last thing we saw of Roald Amundsen was his characteristic figure sitting aft on the flying boat. Suddenly we see him get up and wave – the distance was quite large, several thousand metres. We turned to each other as if on command after answering the salutation along with ten thousand others: ‘You saw that. It was to us.’ The feeling was so strangely intense, and we both reacted at the same time; it was as if we instinctively felt that the gesture applied only to us and no one else.”📜
The Latham is towed out for a while, before starting up and heading north.
18 June 1928
It is around 6 in the morning when they land in Tromsø. The water is quiet and the sun is shining. Several of Tromsø’s residents have stayed awake through the night to greet them. Amundsen takes Dietrichson up to his good friend in town, the pharmacist Fritz Gottlieb Zapffe. Here they get breakfast, a well-packed morning pipe, a bath and rest. The French crew checks into the Grand Hotell.
For breakfast this day chez Zapffe, smoked salmon is served, something both Amundsen and Dietrichson really appreciate. In fact, it is so good that they would like to have it as a packed lunch on the way to Svalbard, so a small box is filled with several sandwiches. At 11 o’clock, Dietrichson goes down to the harbour to make sure the refuelling is going as planned. Zapffe and Amundsen are left to talk. Zapffe is sceptical, about both the flying boat itself and the temporary float repair made in Bergen.
Half an hour later, Zapffe calls the director of the Geophysical Institute, Ole Andreas Krogness, who is responsible for the area’s weather forecast. Krogness has already informed Dietrichson about the weather situation and warns Amundsen of a depression around Svalbard. It is not ideal and concerns Amundsen, who decides to wait until the next weather forecast arrives at 14.00. In the hours that follow, it clears up and preparations for departure begin 📜.
Before he leaves Zapffe, Amundsen prepares for a smoke. But as he is about to light the pipe, he is unable to make the lighter work. He borrows Zapffe’s and gives his broken one to Zappfe: “You keep it, as a reminder of this last journey,” he adds 📜.
Zapffe would later recall that there was something unusual about Amundsen this day. It was “something strangely distant and resigned about him. It seemed like it did not concern him at all, and yet maybe it was just him. Without saying anything he just sat quite still and looked at me. I felt bad inside, but did not understand why, but there must have been something that entered my subconscious.”📜
In 1953, Zapffe spoke to NRK radio about this last meeting with Amundsen in an interview that can be heard at the National Library of Norway🔊.
Through the day, several planes have tried to take off but been thwarted by the weather. Now it’s the Latham’s turn to try. Eventually, the entire crew is gathered down by Tromsøsundet where Latham 47.02 is ready.
“Yes, so we fly then,” said Amundsen.
Equipment and provisions
At around four in the afternoon, the roar of the Latham’s engines is heard across the city. The aircraft will later be said to have appeared overloaded and to have needed several attempts get airborne. But it takes off and disappears north.
At 17:40, Ingøy radio station at Måsøy on the Finnmark coast receives a message from the Latham:
“Captain Amundsen aboard Latham 47, asks to have ice reports if any.”
A quarter of an hour later, the telegraph operator on Ingøy hears the Latham crew trying to call the radio station in Longyearbyen, but no one there hears them.
An hour later, at 18:45, the telegraph operator at the Geophysical Institute in Tromsø overhears a message from the Latham. This is the last reliable report of a message from Amundsen and the crew.
What happened next, we simply don’t know.
The newspapers suggest that the Latham may have headed straight out over the ice towards Nobile and his men, instead of stopping in Kings Bay as arranged.
For many, an accident is unthinkable. In the days after the Latham’s departure from Tromsø, several other planes took off without any problems. The weather was good, and Latham 47.02 was described as one of the best aircraft available.
“There is still an eerie silence about the fate of Amundsen and his comrades. It has now been so many days that one begins to feel anxious that an accident has happened,” wrote Arbeiderbladet on June 22 📜.
The rumours and the finds
As the days pass, the rumours begin to circulate. Some have heard Latham, others have seen Amundsen on ice floes, some have found messages in bottles. Two fishermen report that they have seen on Bjørnøya “tracks from two wheels about six feet apart over a length of 80 feet. The track led to the edge of a precipice, with a large drop to the sea. Near the edge of this abyss the fishermen found a leather hat, part of a fur coat and some pieces of wood.”📜
There are also rumours that Amundsen has been seen at home in Svartskog.
Eventually, fundraisers begin to set up search operations. Rewards are promised for those who can provide information. Several ships, planes and dog teams help to search. Norwegian newspapers arrange lottery sales to raise money, offering as first prize a new Chevrolet Touring donated by General Motors.
But it helps little, and in August comes the first sign that something fatal must have happened.
On 31 August, the fishing boat Brodd is on its way home from the season’s halibut fishing at Bjørnøya. Near Torsvåg Lighthouse in Karsløy, they spot something they think is an empty oil barrel. Suddenly, a cry is heard from one of the crew:
“It looks like it belongs to an airplane.”
It falls quiet on board. Nobody says anything.
They take hold of the object and hoist it on board, and realize it’s a float, from a plane.
But it is not intact. At the front on its left side is a square hole, about 20 cm long and wide, and one of the struts has been repaired with a piece of wood. Elsewhere are clear signs of a previous repair, one that turns out to have been made in Bergen before departure.
The float is from Latham 47.02.
Even the most optimistic now lose hope.
On October 13, it happens again when new wreckage from Latham 47.02 is discovered.
At Haltenbanken, off Trøndelag, the crew of the fishing boat Leif catch sight of a grey-blue petrol tank in the sea. It has also clearly been worked on, with a wooden plug fitted to a small copper pipe belonging to the filling nozzle. In other words, the tank has been modified so that it would float. Why? Maybe to act as a float.
Weeks and months then pass before any more debris appears, but on 11 January 1929 another petrol tank is found. It is completely empty of fuel.
These discoveries give rise to several theories, but even today it is far from clear what really happened to Latham 47.02 and those on board.
Finds and theories
On 14 December 1928, the whole of Norway stands still for two minutes, the Norwegian government having issued several calls in advance. Church bells should ring for two minutes from 12 o’clock, at the same time as a general work stoppage is encouraged. Flags will be lowered to half-mast between 12.00 and 14.00. All school students will, instead of regular teaching, listen to their teacher talk about Roald Amundsen.
The call is respected in several countries, with speeches, ceremonies, newspaper articles and radio clips.
One of those to speak is Fridtjof Nansen.
1928 Latham expedition
- Aircraft type: Latham 47.02 (Latham 47-II)
- Length: 16.30 m
- Wingspan: 25.20 m
- Height: 5.20 m
- Weight: 4,900 kg
- Maximum departure weight: 6,886 kg
- Top speed: 170 km/h
- Range: 900 km
- Engines: 2 x Farman 12We 500 hp (373 kW) 12-cylinder water-cooled W-block
- The hull was made of wood and steel. The bottom was rounded and boat-shaped which made it suitable for landing in large leads, but not on sea ice. Beneath the lower wing on each side was a small float.
- Amundsen first tried to get hold of a Dornier Wal flying boat, similar to N 24 and N 25 used on the expedition to 88 degrees north. He failed, but through contacts of the merchant Fredrik Peterson, head of the Norwegian-French Chamber of Commerce in Paris, the French navy made available a Latham flying boat. Latham 47.02 was the second prototype of this model and originally designed to cross the Atlantic. In the spring of 1928, a test flight of almost 2000 km had been made between Caudebec (France) and Bizerte (Tunisia).
- When the decision was made to use the Latham to search for the Italia expedition, modifications were made at the factory in Caudebec for flying in polar regions. Water pipes, oil pipes and the carburettor were clad to prevent frost formation. The propeller was replaced and a heater installed to maintain a constant temperature around the accumulator batteries.
- After the plane’s arrival in Bergen on June 17, 1928, the circulation pump was overhauled and the port wing float was patched with a metal plate.
The clip below was filmed in the days before Latham 47.02 and the French crew left for Norway in the summer of 1928. At the end of the clip, aviator Renè Guilbaud and radio operator Emile Valette appear in close-up.
Dragon, Maurice: Memoire de la derniere tragedie de la conquete du pole du nord, (2018).
Kristensen, Monica: Amundsens siste reise
Hovdenak, Gunnar: Roald Amundsens siste ferd📜
1928 Latham expedition
When Latham 47.02 took off from Tromsø on 18 June 1928, there were six people on board. The four Frenchmen, Guilbaud, de Cuverville, Brazy and Valette, all had long experience of flying the Latham 47 and had made several flights together before. They were joined in Bergen by Norwegians Amundsen and Dietrichson, whom none of them had previously met and who had never flown in a Latham aircraft.
1928 Latham expedition
Loaded on board in Bergen:
- First aid equipment
- Meta stove with box of fuel blocks
- 100 rounds of ammunition
- 1 carbine
- Parachute for provisions and other things to be dropped to the missing men
- Collapsible boats
- 1428 kg of aviation fuel
- 100 kg of oil
- 70 l of distilled water
Amundsen told the journalists in Bergen that they had a number of things with them that were to be thrown down to Nobile with a parachute, including first aid equipment, rifles, biscuits, pemmican, chocolate and a stove.
Loaded on board in Tromsø:
- 1224 kg aviation fuel
- 90 l Castrol oil
- 10 kg glycerin (for de-icing)
There is no specific list of provisions taken on the Latham expedition, but these items have been mentioned since:
Loaded on board in Bergen:
- 10 kg pemmican
- 10 kg chocolate
- 1 large box of oatcakes
Loaded on board in Tromsø:
- Some bottles of drinking water
- Sandwiches for the crossing to Svalbard
Oscar Wisting took part of the expedition’s equipment with him on the cargo ship Ingeren, which was to arrive in Svalbard a few days after the Latham. There is no definitive record of exactly what was on board the Latham when it took off from Tromsø on 18 June 1928.
1928 Latham expedition
Findings and theories
After Latham 47.02 took off from Tromsø on 18 June 1928, a number of observations, findings and theories were presented. The interest was enormous and did not diminish when in July 1928 a sum of 10,000 kroner (approx. 350,000 kroner in 2020) was offered as a reward for those who could contribute key information. The money was later distributed between the crew of the two ships that discovered the first wreckage that could be linked to the Latham.
Even almost 100 years later, new theories are still being put forward about what may have happened. But what really happened to Roald Amundsen and the others on board is still a mystery.
Below we have gathered the observations, findings and theories that have generated the most attention over the years.
The first radio signal after Latham 47.02 takes off from Tromsø at 16.00 on 18 June 1928, is received at Ingøy radio station in Masøy, at 17:40. The message is signed Guilbaud, with questions about updated information about ice conditions.
A quarter of an hour later, the telegraph operator on Ingøy hears the Latham trying to call the radio station in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, but no one there hears them and the Latham gets no reply.
An hour later, at 18:45, the telegraph operator at the Geophysics Institute in Tromsø overhears the Latham trying to make contact with the radio station at Kings Bay (Ny-Ålesund), on Spitsbergen. This is the last reliable report of a radio transmission from Amundsen and the crew. When Bjørnøya Radio tries to call the Latham at 19:15 there is no contact.
There were several claimed sightings of Latham 47.02 after it flew north from Tromsø. These have been important in creating an understanding of where the Latham may have flown and what may have happened. But they are also uncertain and difficult to confirm retrospectively.
On June 19, the day after the Latham took off from Tromsø, a fisherman from Harstad observed a grey biplane at an altitude of 200 metres northwest of Bjørnøya. Before the fisherman’s information could be examined, however, he had gone back to sea.📜 A week later, newspapers reported that a Russian fishing vessel had observed the Latham and its crew on an ice floe south of Svalbard, but no more precise information followed. In July 1928 came another report from Bjørnøya, when newspapers carried the claim that two Norwegian fishermen on the island’s plateau had seen “tracks from two wheels about six feet apart over a length of 80 feet. The track led to the edge of a precipice, with a large drop to the sea. Near the edge of this abyss the fishermen found a leather hat, part of a fur coat and some pieces of wood”.📜 The observations were later refuted.
In August 1928, the crew of the fishing vessel Jopetter announced that they had observed the light from a fire on Edgeøya in the Svalbard archipelago. Since no other hunters were reported to be in the area, the sighting generated rumours that the fire could have come from the Latham crew. The ice conditions around Edgeøya meant that no one from the Jopetter got ashore and the sighting was never investigated further.📜
In 2002, 95-year-old Jenny Johansen revealed that one evening in June 1928 she and her sister Kaspara had seen a plane lying out at sea off Værholmen, Hillesøy. By the time others in the family arrived at the scene, the plane was gone.📜 In the same year, 2002, it also emerged that a plane had been observed around midnight at Vasstrand, not far from Værholmen. This plane was seen flying at low altitude over the fjord.📜
Another type of sighting was made by so-called clairvoyants. Karl Tandstad and his daughter Olga, from Sykkylven, were known for their psychic abilities and had several times claimed to have “seen” Amundsen. In the summer of 1928, there were therefore a large number of enquiries to the Tandstads about Amundsen. They believed that Latham 47.02 had landed in the ice, but that the crew there had to repair the engine. One day in late June, Olga had a bad feeling and imagined that Amundsen was dead. 📜 Karl Tandstad stated in July 1928 that he had lost the “connection” with the Latham due to fog, but that when he “saw” it again its wings appeared to have become shorter, and although the engine had been repaired, the crew were having difficulty taking off again because of the ice conditions. 📜
In Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia, the female astrologer Maria von Borgia-Knoll claimed that the Latham 47 had had an accident in Nordaustlandet, Svalbard, and that Amundsen was alive but needed help to survive 📜. From the same city came a claim from a clairvoyant man to have “seen” Amundsen lying in the middle of a group of people, Amundsen was said to have been very exhausted and to have clutched at his heart.
In 1930, rumours were published that Amundsen had been discovered by Inuit in Greenland, where he was said to have lived until the spring of 1929 and later died and been buried on the coast. It was also said that Amundsen’s friends from Nome, Alaska had gone to investigate the case. Whether anyone went to search at all is unknown, but no finds were ever reported. 📜
In the period after the Latham’s departure from Tromsø on 18 June 1928, several finds were made of objects that were claimed to have come from the flying boat. Most of these turned out to have nothing to do with the Latham, and others disappeared before they were properly examined, but three objects have been identified as wreckage from Latham 47.02.
In addition to the 3 objects that were positively identified, other reported finds have also generated a lot of discussion and headlines in the newspapers:
- A cylindrical object:
Found by some school children in the autumn of 1928, at Skittenelv, north of Tromsø. It was handed over to the local teacher, but what happened to it then is unknown. The object was described as being white and about half a metre long. It was said that “Latham” was written on the object, but misspelt. 📜
- Message in a bottle:
On December 26, 1928, a message in a bottle was found with the following text dated June 18, 1928: “Our engine has stopped and we have fallen into the sea about 120 km south-east of Bjørnøya. Misty and easterly wind. – We are drifting with the wind and the aircraft is sinking. Maybe we can stay afloat for 2-3 hours. We are trying to repair the engine, but it appears to be impossible. We are sinking slowly. Latham’s expedition
Roald Amundsen.” 📜
The find was reported by fisherman Baard Paulsen off Ingøy, in Måsøy municipality in Troms and Finnmark. Paulsen handed the message to the local sheriff, the shopkeeper O.S. Digre. From the beginning, the “bottle post” was viewed with great scepticism, and upon closer examination by forensic chemist Charles M. Bruff was found to be forged. The fisherman Paulsen who reported the find was later convicted of forgery and received a fine of 50 kroner, while Digre was strongly criticized because he had, it was claimed, sold the rights to some newspapers. Gustav “Goggen” Amundsen, for example, wrote a letter to the Ministry of Justice expressing his desire that the forgery should have legal consequences. Digre appeared less greedy in his version of the case published later. 📜
- Two floats:
Found 31 December 1928 at Tunes near Nordkapp, Troms and Finnmark. The find was made by the fisherman Johan Olsen Tunes and was described as being “…two connected floats. One of the floats bore the inscription ‘Latham, Paris’.”📜 The “floats” were about 30 centimetres long and weighed 2 kilos. The find made great headlines, but after further investigation was denied to have any kind of relation to Latham 47.02. It turned out not to be floats and the inscription was later interpreted as “Pat. No 286 573”. 📜
- Message in a bottle:
On September 14, 1928, a message found in a bottle read:
“Latham is located in a north-easterly direction from Greenland 78 degrees 52 east together with balloon party. Two men insane. Bad food situation. All are alive together. The aircraft were seen, but no one came to our aid. Adr. Roald Amundsen.”
The message was written on thin white paper soaked in oil. The bottle was English and with a screw cap. It was handed in to the local sheriff, but quickly dismissed as a fake message.📜
In 1933/34, a float/tank was found at Skolmen in Vestvågøy and later handed in to the sheriff in Svolvær. Neither the submission nor the object has since been traced.
- Plywood panel:
Discovered in 1964 by hunter Per Johnson on Edgeøya, Svalbard. The panel was made of double plywood with a frame in between, screwed together with brass screws. The size was about 120 cm x 120 cm and the colour grey. It also carried remnants of an electrical device. Johnson used the panel to patch up his hunting cabin. When the panel was examined several years later at the Norwegian Aviation Museum, it was concluded that it was difficult to link it to Latham 47.02, and its origin remained unidentified. Today it is on display at the North Pole Museum in Longyearbyen, Svalbard.
- Aircraft wreckage and a skull:
In 1991, a skull related to an aircraft wreck in the sea off the island of Auvær, off Tromsø was handed over to police. The skull was never identified and was lost during the relocation of the police station in 1995-96.📜
- A tank:
On the island of Håja, off Tromsø, what was described as a slip tank was discovered on the shore. It was cylindrical and about 140 cm long. The tank was probably thrown away and is now lost. 📜
- Object fished up at Kap Duner, Bjørnøya:
In 1933, the fishing vessel MS Kvitholmen reported catching a large metal object in the trawl, estimated to be 2 metres long and weigh 200 kilos. But before they could get it on board, the line failed and the panel disappeared at sea and was not recovered.📜 📜
In addition to these finds, there are also three parts of Latham 47.02 in the collection of the Whaling Museum, Sandefjord. These pieces must have been given to Amundsen’s friend Helmer Hanssen before departure from Tromsø.📜
In addition to findings and sightings, the years since 1928 have seen several theories advanced to explain what may have happened to Latham 47.02. Here are some of those that have received the most attention:
- Accident at sea along the Norwegian coast: Can be explained on the basis of sightings, but based on the positively identified object finds seems unlikely.
- Accident at sea south of Bjørnøya: The identified objects support the theory that Latham 47.02 either landed in the sea voluntarily or was forced down. The repairs to the float and the attempt to use the fuel tank as an alternative buoyancy aid may have failed and the flying boat been wrecked. If the Latham 47 had crashed in the sea south of Bjørnøya, then it is plausible that the float and petrol tanks that were found along the Norwegian coast had drifted there with the ocean currents.
- Newfoundland: In August 1928 came the news that a cargo ship had observed a crashed plane lying in the sea off Newfoundland, Canada. The observation was never confirmed and did not lead to any further investigations.
- Novaya Zemlya: In 1931, when the photographs from the Graf Zeppelin airship expedition in 1929 were examined, it was claimed that a photograph taken over Novaya Zemlya showed a plane in the sea ice. Some thought that it could be the Latham, but based on other discoveries and calculations of ocean currents, this was eventually viewed as very unlikely.📜
- Tent camp on the Platen Peninsula (Platenhalvøya): In the book “Roald Amundsen’s siste reise”, published in 2017, Monica Kristensen presented a theory that Amundsen and the crew may have met members of the Italia expedition and reached the Platen Peninsula, Nordaustlandet in Svalbard. In 1936, a camp site with objects that may have belonged to both Italians and Norwegians was discovered there.
- Incognito in Alaska: In the 1940s, there were several rumours that Amundsen had been sighted in Alaska with a group of Inuit. Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, who took pictures of Amundsen on several occasions, told the newspapers in 1942 that he saw this as very unlikely, but that he still had an “ever so slight suspicion that the fairy tale could be reality”. 📜
An even more “alternative” theory claims that Amundsen was picked up by Lincoln Ellsworth and went to Mexico where he lived incognito for decades.
1928 Latham expedition.
Wreckage – Float, found 31 August 1928.
On 31 August 1928, the crew of the fishing vessel Brodd discovered a damaged float in the water at Torsvåg lighthouse in Karlsøy municipality. The float was transported to Tromsø, where it was examined by officers from the ship Michael Sars and the French transport ship Durance, as well as the French consul. They all thought that this could be a float from Latham 47.02. In Tromsø, the float was loaded on board the Durance which took it on to Bergen, where it was identified by the same people who had repaired it during Amundsen’s stopover in Bergen on 17 June 1928.
The float’s dimensions were measured as:
Length: 2.32 m
Maximum width: 56 cm
Maximum height: 58 cm
Its colour was described as blue-grey.
Based on these measurements, comparisons were made with one of Latham 47.02‘s sister aircraft at the Caudebec-en-Caux plant, which confirmed that it was an identical float. It was also discovered that a piece of wood had been used to attempt a repair to one of the struts and that there was a large gash in the front on the left side, about 20 centimetres long.
The discovery of the float led to theories that the Latham had crashed either in the sea or onto the ice. Some French newspapers also believed that the crew of the Latham had used the float as a “post bottle” and wanted it to be examined internally for any messages, but further investigations found nothing to support this.
From Bergen, the float was taken to Paris, where it was examined by people from the French Ministry of the Navy.
After the investigations in 1928, the float remained in France. It was handed over to Le Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace near Paris, and is now on display at Le musée de l’hydraviation de Biscarosse.
Fuel tank, Latham 47.02
On January 10, 1929, fisherman Martin Jørgensen found a fuel tank on the shore at Borge in Lofoten. His son, Julian Sortland, reported this to Lofotposten’s editorial staff, 📜 who were further asked to inform the police chief. The tank was handed in to the local sheriff and then transported to the police chief in Svolvær.
Newspaper descriptions of the tank contained details such as: “The drain pipe is worn away, but the filler pipe and drain pipe are in order, the plugs are attached by strings. Around both ends of the tank is an indented edge, and the paint is slightly scraped off. As far as one can see there is no inscription. At one end of the tank is a hemispherical bulge.”📜
The chief of police in Svolvær was able to confirm that the tank’s filler pipe bore a brass plate almost identical to that on the tank found in October 1928. This tank, however, could hold only 500 litres. The plate read: “Essence. Contenance 500 litres, Hydravion Latham.”
The tank was empty and dry inside, and since it remained sealed with taps closed, investigators concluded that the fuel had been exhausted during the Latham’s flight. This was used as a new basis for calculating how far the flying boat had travelled before the tanks were removed from the hull.
This tank was later donated to the current Norwegian Maritime Museum in Oslo, and is now on display at the Polar Museum in Tromsø, The Arctic University museum of Norway. The tank was digitized in 2021 by AHR, The Arctic University of Norway.
The tank in Augmented reality (AR)
1928 Latham expedition
Wreckage – Fuel tank, found 13 October 1928
On 13 October 1928, the crew of the fishing boat Leif found a fuel tank on Haltenbanken, west of Namsos.
The Leif‘s captain, Leonard Olsen, spoke to the newspapers about the discovery: “It appeared to be a blue-grey aluminium tank in the shape of a bathtub.” 📜 After the fuel tank was landed in Vasøya in Vallersund, it was transported to Trondheim and placed in the customs sheds.The tank was then transported by train to Oslo, where it was examined by pilots Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen and Finn Lützow-Holm and others before being finally sent to the French Ministry of the Navy in Paris.
The fuel tank was measured and described as:
Length: 120.0 cm
Width: 56 cm
Height: 80 cm
It was made of metal and painted a grey-blue colour.
It was concluded that this was Latham 47.02‘s front internal fuel tank, the tank located closest to a hatch behind the cockpit through which all the fuel tanks could be removed. The hatch was fastened with bolts, and all the tanks were fastened with metal straps along strong stays on the aircraft. The tank was estimated to contain about 30 litres of fuel when it was found, and despite some dents, was intact.
On the tank were some pencilled inscriptions, which were interpreted first as a message from the crew but then determined to be records of fuel consumption and pressure made by the mechanic on board before departure.
The investigations also revealed that the drain cock had been torn off, but this was explained to have happened on the deck of the Leif when the tank came loose in a rough sea. Further confirmation of the tank’s identity was found on the filler pipe, which bore a small brass plate stamped: “Essence. Contenance 600 litres, Hydravion Latham.”
Another key observation was made in the filler nozzle, which had also come loose on board the Leif. Into a copper vent pipe soldered to the lid of the nozzle had been placed a wooden plug that sealed the pipe. This plug consisted of light wood and bore marks from a knife. By cutting through the copper pipe, the wooden plug could be retrieved undamaged. Subsequent investigations and enquiries established that the wooden plug had not been inserted into the vent pipe in Caudebec-en-Caux before departure. Along with the wooden plug, a gasket around the filler nozzle had also clearly been worked with a knife.
The marine investigation in Trondheim and further investigations in France found that if the tank were placed in the sea, it would turn so that the side with the filler nozzle was lowest. The wooden plug would then prevent seawater from penetrating into the tank. This generated several theories in which the tank had been dismantled by the crew. French aviation experts and representatives from the Latham factory thought it impossible that the fuel tank had torn loose from the fastenings in an accident, and that the aircraft had not therefore crashed and sunk, at least not immediately. The wooden plug and the worked gasket were proof that the crew must have had both time to remove this tank and a reason to modify it. An obvious possible explanation was that one of the Latham’s floats had been destroyed, and that to restore the aircraft’s stability the crew had used the fuel tank as a makeshift float. Albert de Cuverville, the French co-pilot and navigator on Latham 47.02, had done something similar on a previous flight.
This tank was sent to France and is probably the one currently owned by the Musée de l’air et de l’espace (French Aviation and Space Museum). In that case, it is today exhibited together with the float at Le musée de l’hydraviation de Biscarrosse (Aviation Museum in Biscarrosse, France), while the tank found in 1929 is exhibited at the Polar Museum in Tromsø.
Kristensen, Monica: Amundsens siste reise
Hovdenak, Gunnar: Roald Amundsens siste ferd📜
Latham-ferden: Roald Amundsens endelikt. Utgitt av Vågemot miniforlag, 2014.📜