Historic Russian Steamship Chelyuskin Found
By James Donahue
The Russian icebreaker Chelyuskin made headlines in July, 1933, when it got caught in the frozen Arctic
ice and then sank in the Bearing Sea after the shifting ice floes crushed its hull.
The ship steamed off that summer from the port of Murmansk in an attempt to break its way through
the ice fields to Vladivostok, in the Pacific Ocean, and prove that cargo ships could safely take a northern route instead
of traveling all the way south around Asia.
It was similar to the American effort to break a northern path through the ice fields north of the
Canadian tundra. Both attempts ended in failure.
If the Chelyuskin had been successful, it would have completed a trip of more than 4,500 miles, much
of it through the ice. But it got stranded in the ice fields in the Bering Sea, failed to break free, and sank off the coast
of Chukotka in February, 1934.
The crew and a staff of 111 people who were aboard the Chelyuskin escaped the doomed ship and set
up a tent camp on the ice until they were rescued by Soviet aircraft. That was a dramatic story in itself. They said aviators
launched more than two dozen flights searching for the survivors.
The survivors were evacuated in March and April. They included 10 women and two babies born during
the ill-fated voyage. The rescue was big news in Russia and the airmen became the first to be awarded with the highest Soviet
medal: Hero of the Soviet Union.
There has been an effort to find the Chelyuskin ever since. It was found this year off the coast of
Chukotka. It lies about 165 feet in the water so searchers used under-sea robots to examine it.
The Chukotka was built in Denmark in 1933, apparently for this expedition. It was named after Semion
Ivanovich Chelyuskin, an 18th Century Russian polar explorer.
The leader of the expedition was Otto Yuliyevich Shmidt. The ship's captain was V. I. Voronin.