Explorer's Canadian Trip Cut Short by Threat of Arrest

Ron Carlson wants to help solve the mystery of what happened to Sir John Franklin and his two ships

By Dick Johnson
|  Tuesday, Jul 12, 2011  |  Updated 11:49 PM CDT
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A Chicago architect wanted to help solve the mystery of what happened to an expedition that ended in disaster near the Arctic Circle 165 years ago, but the project got him kicked out of Canada.

A Chicago architect wanted to help solve the mystery of what happened to an expedition that ended in disaster near the Arctic Circle 165 years ago, but the project got him kicked out of Canada.

A Chicago architect and pilot is back home after receiving a letter threatening him with arrest and fines if he continued his exploration for the remains of Sir John Franklin and his two ships.

Ron Carlson said he's always been fascinated with the Royal Navy officer and arctic explorer and wants to help solve the mystery of what happened to the expedition that ended in disaster near the Arctic Circle 165 years ago.

The leader and 129 men aboard two ships were lost during an attempt to discover the Northwest Passage.

"I think the grail of it would be to find the ship's logs because that would tell the entire story of what happened to these men," Carlson said Tuesday.

His journey began at the end of May.  He took off in his specially-equipped, personally funded bush plane packed with state-of-the-art thermal imaging equipment, navigation gear and a survival suit, determined to find the British explorer's grave and his two lost ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror.

Three weeks later, he arrived at his base camp, a cold, desolate Cambridge Bay.  He eventually recorded aerial images of some of the expedition's already-discovered artifacts: the final resting place of the men in a rescue boat desperate for a way out of the ice flow that crippled their ships and killed their captain.

"The bones of the 15 men were gathered by doctors about 20 years ago," said Carlson.  "From the knife marks they determined they had cannibalized each other.

When his permit to officially explore was suddenly denied by the Canadian government, he took off anyway and said he would just be acting as a tourist.

All seemed fine, he said, until shortly after he posted video of his travels on his website.  The Canadian government sent him a one-page letter last month.

"You will be arrested. You will be fined and you can spend up to six months in jail.  This is a warning," Carlson said the letter warned him.

It cut short his long-planned summer adventure and diminished a dream of helping the Inuits showcase the ill-fated expedition witnessed by their forefathers.

"I respect that.  I'll try again next year," he said. 

Carlson's activities have sparked wider interest, especially among Canadian researchers.  He now believes finding the rest of the Franklin expedition has a new challenge: territorial sovereignty.

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