The Great Pacific Running Shoe Search

The Great Pacific Running Shoe Search

Hansa Carrier
Hansa Carrier

In late [27th] May of 1990, the container vessel Hansa Carrier encountered a severe storm in the north Pacific Ocean (approx. 48°N, 161°W) on its passage from Korea to the United States.

During the storm, a large wave washed twenty-one (21) forty foot (40 ft.) shipping containers overboard. See this video of damaged cargo ships and cargo being lost.

[media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HFARxn73dk” width=”400″ height=”300″]

Fully-loaded container ship
Fully-loaded container ship

Five of these 20-metre containers held a shipment of approximately 80,000 Nike® shoes ranging from children’s shoes to large hiking boots. It has been estimated that four of the five containers opened into the stormy waters, releasing over 60,000 shoes into the north Pacific Ocean.


Running Shoe
This one looks a bit rough

That winter of 1990, hundreds of these shoes washed ashore on the beaches of the Queen Charlotte Islands , western Vancouver Island , Washington  and Oregon.

After hearing of the accident, oceanic scientist Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer seized the opportunity and established links with beachcombers and formed a network of people reporting the landfall of the contents of this spill.

Where the shoes were found

When Oregon newspapers began running the story, the Associated Press picked it up, and the word spread. The publicity resulted in many additional reports of the finding of Nike shoes on Pacific beaches. Dubious about some of the reported finds, Ebbesmeyer decided to confine his study to only those shoes found in groups of 100 or more. Even with this restriction, he accounted for approximately 1300 shoes from the more than 60,000 released. 

Despite a year in the ocean, much of the footwear was in fine shape and wearable after a washing. Unfortunately, the shoes were not tied to one another so that matching pairs did not always reach the beach together.

“I remember this very well as I could never find a matching pair!” – retlkpr

Each shoe, however, had an identifying serial number, and with information obtained from the manufacturer, Ebbesmeyer was able to determine that the shoes were indeed from the Hansa Carrier.

Drift bottle
Drift bottle

The accident turned into a scientific gold mine. With information on the locations where the shoes were found, Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham were able to use the spill to test and calibrate their ocean current model. In the past when researchers have released a multitude of drift bottles1 to provide data for testing models, only about one or two percent of the drift bottles are typically recovered. Thus, the accidental release of approximately 61,000 shoes and the recovery of approximately 1600 shoes (2.6%) provided data as good as any pre-planned study. 

Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham used the OSCURS (Ocean Surface Currents Simulation) computer simulation model to determine where and how the shoes may have drifted after the containers were swept overboard.

The model suggested that the main landfall would have been around the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the central coast of British Columbia approximately 249 days after the spill.

The first reports of shoe landfalls came from Vancouver Island and Washington approximately 220 days after the spill. A large number of shoes were recovered in the Queen Charlotte Islands and northern Oregon suggesting that when the shoes neared the North American coast some were diverted north and others south by coastal currents. 

In the summer of 1992 (two years after the incident), shoes were reported arriving at the northern end of the Island of Hawaii. After reaching North America these shoes may have continued southward along the California coast and then been pushed off the coast by currents moving westward to Hawaii. 

The rest of the story is on the website of Keith C. Heidorn (aka the Weather Doctor).


This also happened with rubber ducks (aka friendly floatees)!




1 See the story by Jeannie Nielsen about finding, and getting paid for the Drift bottles.


Check the Wikipedia article on the Hansa Carrier and other incidents of a similar nature. 

And if you are interested, this is where the other 57,000+ shoes probably ended up!

This is a never-ending story. as more and more stuff is dumped into the ocean every year. See the story on the Japanese Tsunami debris.

Take a look here for what you can beachcomb in the next few years – more Nike® shoes, Lego, etc.


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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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