These explorers went in search of the unknown and were never heard from again
Just as the terms entrepreneur and engineer have broadened far beyond their traditional definitions in recent years, it’s as if anyone who’s gone on a remote hike nowadays considers themselves to be an explorer. Weekend explorers, maybe. But the brave men and women below literally gave their lives in search of the unknown long before GPS and smartphone technology opened up the far-reaching ends of the Earth to us commoners.
As Amazon prepares to release a biopic about legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett, The Lost City Of Z, we bring you a list of modern history’s greatest missing explorers who have been presumed dead. These people have put their lives in the hands of the gods in the name of research and mankind.
The 1920s British explorer didn’t just lose his life during an ill-fated expedition to the jungles of Brazil, but the mystery surrounding his disappearance is responsible for the death of more than 100 people who’ve gone in search of the colonel’s body and to unearth his fate. A rock star of his time, Fawcett was a military man who became famous for mapping uncharted territories and for his adventurous spirit. But what consumed him most was finding the lost city of El Dorado that he named The City Of Z. It was his 1925 exploration to Brazil’s Mato Grosso in search of the lost city’s alleged riches from which he was never seen again.
Theories about his fate abound, including that he was mauled to death by a jaguar, suffered malaria or became a tribesman never to return. But the most popular is that he ignored local advice and made contact with a territorial tribe who killed him and his party.
Uemura was part of the first Japanese team of climbers to scale Everest before becoming one of the only people in the world to conquer all of each continent’s highest mountains solo. On May 1, 1978, he became the first person to reach the North Pole solo, but his story came to a tragic end in February 1984, when he went missing during his attempt to climb the brutal Mount McKinley in Alaska. His diary was found by a search party, the contents of which confirmed Uemura had reached the peak. But he was never seen again and his body is yet to be recovered.
The British explorer was either the first person to successfully scale Mount Everest in 1924 or one of many victims to die trying – nobody knows. Until his camera is recovered – or the body of his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine – we’ll never know the truth. The pair were last seen climbing at around 27,000 feet but were never seen or heard from again. Many expeditions since have helped piece together the puzzle after Mallory’s ice axe was discovered at 27,700 feet in the 1930s, before his oxygen canister was unearthed more than 60 years later, in 1991. Finally, his body was recovered in 1999 and the climbers agreed he was the victim of a fall. Irvine has never been found. But there’s still no way to know whether the pair reached the summit and died on the way down or perished on the way up.
Chinese biologist Peng Jiamu was never heard from again after an ill-fated expedition to China’s Lop Nor desert in 1980, when he vanished after walking from his camp to find water. A veteran explorer and researcher, Jiamu had visited the desert on a number of occasions before his inexplicable disappearance. Six skeletons have been found swallowed by sand since his disappearance but as yet, Jiamu’s body is still to be recovered. He’s believed to have been the victim of a freak sandstorm or loose sand collapse.
The Norwegian explorer is credited with being the first pan to reach both the South and North Poles in 1911 and 1926, respectively, but was never seen again after his plane went down while assisting on a mission in Norway to recover the crashed zeppelin, Airship Italia. The plane vanished from radar and has never been recovered.
Not an explorer per se, but adventurer and pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart’s feats are not to be discounted. After becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Earhart disappeared in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the world in a small plane. She vanished somewhere over the central Pacific and was declared dead in 1939 after never being heard from again. Countless searches have ensued, with skeletons found amid new investigations. But as yet, neither the plane, Earhart, nor the remains of navigator Fred Noonan have been recovered. Though conspiracy theories include Earhart assuming a new identity and moving to New Jersey, of all places.
The South Korean bad boy of explorers who allegedly stole the South Pole marker on his way to becoming the first person to achieve the Adventurers Grand Slam – climbing each of the seven continents’ highest peaks and reaching both the South and North poles – Park Young-Seok disappeared six years ago. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since 2011, when he vanished during an attempt to forge a new route up the notoriously deadly Annapurna in Nepal. His rope was recovered but the fate of him and his team remains a mystery.
The American explorer, painter and poet traversed the Colorado Plateau, Yosemite, Sequoia and High Sierra, and sold paintings of each region to afford his next expedition. Ruess was only 20 years old when he disappeared while exploring Utah’s Davis Gulch Canyon and Escalante River in 1934. He was only reported as missing up to four months after his disappearance – by which time it was too late to find anything resembling a body, and DNA searches have since proved fruitless, too.