Three simple words echoed in the freezing air as their ship, their lifeline and their hope vanished in front of them.
A crew of 27 watched in horror after Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton yelled out: “She’s going, boys.”
Endurance, which had been locked in the ice for 10 months, finally sank into its watery grave.
The crew feared the same fate – stranded, some 750 miles from safety.
But they would, of course, survive. Thanks to the heroic leadership of Shackleton and right-hand man Frank Wild, who proved to be instrumental – literally – in maintaining morale.
Frank, who stood just 5ft 4ins but had the heart of a lion was a fixture at Shackleton’s side throughout his four expeditions to Antarctica.
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Endurance sank on November 21, 1915. And in the uncertain weeks and months that followed it was Wild who kept the crew’s spirits alive by playing the banjo and sharing whisky he had salvaged from the ship.
More than a century on, a new breed of explorers has been searching for the sunken wreck in the Southern Ocean’s Weddell Sea. But with cruel irony, their efforts were thwarted when a remote submarine became trapped in ice – just like Endurance.
The search team hoped to take pictures and build a 3D image of the wreckage. Their efforts were closely followed by Tim Fright, 35 – a great-great-nephew of adventurer Wild.
He was raised on tales of Uncle Frank’s heroics, surrounded by expedition mementoes.
Tim, from Esher, Surrey, said: “I found out about Frank as a young boy. We had a large photo on our stairs of him tending to expedition dogs. There were all these knick-knacks and things around the house.
“We’ve got a walrus tusk, a couple of medals, a little box made from wood from one of the expeditions – and one of his old skis in the garage.”
Many artefacts lie trapped aboard the Endurance and the images – which experts say would have been razor sharp – could have offered a glimpse of a world gone by.
Yorkshire-born Wild was once described by Irishman Shackleton as “my other self”.
It was the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition that would define the pair.
Shackleton and his crew were hoping to cross Antarctica in the first mission of its kind when the Endurance became stuck fast in polar ice in January, 1915.
The crew abandoned ship and lived in tents on the ice. One amazing photo shows them playing football alongside Endurance – frozen solid like a ghostly galleon.
After 10 months, the ship’s hull finally cracked under the pressure.
Wild recalled the sinking in his polar diary and was overcome, writing: “It was a sickening sensation to feel the decks breaking up under one’s feet, the great beams bending and snapping with a noise of heavy gun fire.
“Shackleton was on the lookout platform and everybody else in the tents when we heard him shout, ‘She’s going boys!“ Running out, we were just in time to see the stern of the Endurance rise and then a quick dive and all was over. I felt I had lost an old friend.”
Shackleton was bereft and unable to watch as she sank to the ocean floor. In his own diary note, he said: “At 5pm she went down by the head. I cannot write about it.”
Shackleton and his men spent weeks surviving on the ice, hoping the floes would drift them to safety.
In the bleakest of times, Wild, with his banjo, and other musicians among the crew staged concerts to boost morale.
When the ice began to crack they were forced to use their lifeboats to reach Elephant Island – a remote and unforgiving landmass off the coast of Antarctica.
Wild was in charge of 21 men who stayed on the island as Shackleton and five others then set sail for South Georgia in search of help. They arrived 16 days and some 750 miles later.
Shackleton rallied a rescue team and returned to save his crew. Remarkably, they all survived.
Back in Blighty the nation rejoiced as first word of their safety was confirmed – followed by pictures of the survivors.
Daily Mirror headlines read “Endurance Nipped In The Ice” and “One Of The Most Heroic Rescues In History.”
Last week the Endurance was grabbing headlines again as the so-called rediscovery mission entered a crucial phase.
Shackleton’s skipper, Frank Worsely, was a skilled navigator and charted the precise co-ordinates of the Endurance sinking.
The search team – led by Prof Julian Dowdeswell – cracked through part of the 17,000 sq mile Larson C ice shelf in the Weddell Sea.
Back home, Tim Fright, who works in communications for Nokia and is a founding director of financial tech company Plenitude, was positively buoyant with anticipation.
But Antarctica was to have its say yet again and the search was axed after one of the subs was entombed by ice.
Tim is bitterly disappointed but hopes the secrets that lie below can be revealed “in my lifetime”.
He said: “It’s a shame. But they made the right choice for the right reasons, considering the weather conditions.
“Their decision goes to show the tough conditions in Antarctica and it’s better to be safe than sorry. It doesn’t matter if the ship is wooden, like the Endurance, or metal, like their research boat, the ice always wins.”
And the father of two – who named his three-year-old Sandy Ernest, after Shackleton – remains in awe of his Uncle Frank.
He added: “The Endurance expedition was pretty special – there aren’t many derring-do tales like it.
“Back then the mission was the equivalent of going to the moon. No one could help you. And they survived – it’s a pretty insane story.”
The explorers enjoyed a final voyage in 1921 before Shackleton died of a heart attack, aged just 47, in South Georgia, where he was buried.
Wild captained the ship home to England before moving to South Africa, where he took up farming.
He died, at 66, in 1939. In 2011 his ashes were removed from Johannesburg and he was interred next to Shackleton.
Fittingly, their graves point south to Antarctica – and the wreck of Endurance.
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