14 November 2021: It was 46 years ago this past week that one of the more notorious shipwrecks - sinkings - in the United States occurred. November 10th 1975 was the date the iron ore carrier, Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior taking with her all 29 men aboard. Because it was so sudden and radio communication so sketchy, that to this day, no one knows for sure why she sank. Granted she faced an horrendous storm - Lake Superior is famous for monster storms that just spring up out of nowhere - but the actual reason has yet to be determined. Singer Gordon Lightfoot wrote a very long song about the disaster which more than likely brought it to the attention of many who might never have been aware of the tragedy. From a local (Michigan) publication:
LAKE SUPERIOR, MI - “Things look pretty bad. It looks like she may have split apart at the seams.”
In the hours after the 728-foot Edmund Fitzgerald abruptly vanished from the radar during a gale on Lake Superior the night of Nov. 10, 1975, the attitude of rescue crews quickly switched from incredulity that a freighter so large could just disappear, to asking nearby ships to help with the search.
Forty-six years ago tonight, the search for the Mighty Fitz was just beginning. Its last radio contact with a nearby ship was at 7:10 p.m. Minutes later, her crew could not be raised on the ship’s radio.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula will be offering a livestream memorial service at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10.
In these audio recordings, the U.S. Coast Guard at the Sault Ste. Marie station is talking to Capt. Jesse Cooper from the nearby Arthur M. Anderson, a ship that had been trailing the Fitzgerald for much of that day in fierce seas and waves as high as 25 feet.
The Anderson had been the first to raise the alarm when the Fitzgerald vanished. Now the Anderson’s crew was being asked to go back out into the gale and look for the Fitzgerald and her crew of 29 men.
You can hear the Coast Guard saying it’s “very certain that the Fitzgerald went down,” and is asking nearby ships for assistance.
The Coast Guard was hoping ships near Whitefish Point could look for lights in the water, lifeboats, debris - anything signaling there might be survivors.
as she rests today under Lake Superior
Earlier in the day, the Edmund Fitzgerald had lost both its radars and the Arthur Anderson’s crew had been helping the Fitzgerald’s crew navigate through the storm.
“The last time I talked with him, he said he was ‘holding his own.’ I lost contact after that,” Cooper tells the Coast Guard.
Cooper agrees to go back out to the area where he thinks the Fitzgerald disappeared, but you can tell by his voice that he’s worried about his own crew, too.
“I’m afraid I’m going to take a hell of a beatin’ out there.”
Perhaps someday, underwater archeologists will figure out what actually happened to the "Big Fitz" but at the present, only theories are offered. Some include poorly secured hatches which allowed water into the holds unnoticed, until it was too late (covered the ore shipment), while others claim the ship hit a sandbar leaving port and damaged her hull. Neither, of course, has been proven.
Until next time,