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.

Radio signal

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.

Sightings

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. 📜

Wreckage

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.

Float

Found 31 August 1928 in the sea north of Tromsø.

Fuel tank

Found 13 October 1928 in the sea off Trøndelag.

Fuel tank

Found 11 January 1929 off Lofoten.

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:

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.📜

Theories

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:

An even more “alternative” theory claims that Amundsen was picked up by Lincoln Ellsworth and went to Mexico where he lived incognito for decades. It is also claimed that Amundsen was kidnapped and held captive on an Italian island, having previously criticized Nobile and made himself unpopular in the country.

1872
Roald Amundsen born July 16
1880
Starts at Otto Andersen’s School
1886
Jens Engebreth Amundsen dies
1887 – 1889
Polar interest aroused
1890
Starting university
1893
Gustava Amundsen (née. Sahlqvist) dies
1893
Mountain ski tour with Urdahl and Holst
1894
Hunting in Arctic waters with the Magdalena
1895
Ship’s Officer’s exam
1896
Hardangervidda with Leon
1897 – 1899
Belgica expedition
1899
Cycling from Christiania to Paris
1900
Studying geomagnetism in Hamburg
1903 – 1906
Gjøa expedition
1907
Polar bears as draft animals
1908
Amundsen buys Uranienborg
1909
The North Pole reached?
1910 – 1912
Fram expedition
1914
Amundsen becomes a pilot
1916 – 1917
The polar ship Maud is being built
1918
Maud expedition
1922
Nita and Camilla move in
1923
Uranienborg for sale
1924
Amundsen goes bankrupt
1925
To 88 degrees north
1926
Norge expedition
1927
Lecture tour in Japan
1928
Latham flight
1928
1928 Latham Expedition. Findings and theories
1934 – 1935
Uranienborg becomes a museum
1938
Betty’s house burns down
2015
A chest full of photographs is discovered
2020
Roald Amundsen’s home goes digital