The Edmund Fitzgerald Embarks From Superior WI.

Edmund Fitzgerald

Edmund Fitzgerald

November 9,1975,the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald departs from Superior Wisconsin.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was known as “The Queen Of The Great Lakes.” At 729 feet long, 75 feet wide, and launched on June 7, 1958, the Edmund Fitzgerald Reigned for 13 years as the largest carrier ever to navigate the waters of the Great Lakes. She set the seasonal haul records six times in her lifespan.

Sadly, her successful life as a work horse on those waters is now largely overshadowed by the tragic fate. That was dealt her by the “gales of November” and immortalized by the classic Gordon Lightfoot song “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.” The Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the most well known maritime disasters. It tragically claimed the lives of all her crew.

The Edmund Fitzgerald embarked under the command of Captain Ernest M. McSorley from Superior Wisconsin at 2:15 p.m. on November 9, 1975. Loaded with 26,000 tons of taconite iron ore pellets, she was bound for a steel mill on Zug island near Detroit Michigan. En route to her destination, the “Fitz” was joined by a second freighter, the S.S. Arthur M. Anderson with the Edmund Fitzgerald taking the lead position.

At 7:00 p.m, November 9th, 1975, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a gale warning with a forecast of sustained winds between thirty-nine and forty-six miles per hour throughout night. This was not an unusual forecast for Lake Superior in November; however, the warning was upgraded and the Fitzgerald and the Anderson sought cover along the Canadian Coast. At 1 a.m., November 10th, they encountered a winter storm and the Edmund Fitzgerald reported conditions with 60 mph wind gusts and waves 10 feet high. At 2 a.m. the storm warnings were upgraded yet again, with winds predicted at 40-58 mph. Due to the extreme conditions around 2:45 a.m., the Anderson lost sight of the Fitzgerald, who was about 16 miles ahead of her. By daybreak the storm hit full force, hammering both vessels as they turned towards Whitefish Point, Michigan. Just after 3:30 p.m. Captain McSorley reported they lost a fence railing, two vent covers,was taking in water, and developed a list. He was also checking down, meaning he was slowing their speed to narrow the gap between the two boats. Captain McSorley wasn’t known for checking down often. Shortly after, the Coast Guard warned that the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie were closed and that all vessels should seek safe anchorage.

A little after 4:10 p.m. Captain McSorley reported that the Edmund Fitzgerald’s radar was non functional and asked for the Anderson to guide her. The Edmund Fitzgerald was now blind and wind gusts were now reaching 90 mph with waves of 18 to 25 feet.

At 4:39 p.m., McSorley radioed the Coast Guard to ask if the navigation beacon and light were operational at Whitefish Point. The Coast Guard indicated both were non-operational. McSorley then hailed any ships in the Whitefish Point area to report the state of the navigational aids. Captain Cedric Woodard of the SS Avafors replied around 5:15 p.m.. He stated that the Whitefish point light was operational but the radio beacon was not. Woodard later testified to the Marine Board that he overheard McSorley say, “Don’t allow nobody on deck,” as well as something about a vent that Woodard could not understand. Some time later, McSorley told Woodard that “I have a ‘bad list’, I have lost both radars, and am taking heavy seas over the deck in one of the worst seas I have ever been in.” Around the same time, The Anderson logged sustained winds of 67 mph and waves reaching 35 feet in height.

Around 6:55 p.m. the Anderson was hit with a wave that engulfed the ship from stern to bow fully submerging the vessel but the shook off the wave. Another wave hit soon after. Both waves traveled forward towards the Edmund Fitzgerald. Cooper would later testify at the board of inquiry,“I watched those two waves head down the lake toward the Fitzgerald. I think those were the two that sent her under.”

At 7:10 p.m. the Edmund Fitzgerald made her final communication when the Anderson reported a ship moving in the opposite direction of the vessels and asked how they were doing. McSorley responded,”We are holding our own.”

Ten minutes later, the Anderson could not raise the Edmund Fitzgerald by radio or detect her on radar. No distress signal from the Edmund Fitzgerald was received.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lies 17 miles off Whitefish Point, 535 feet below Lake Superior’s surface. It is the last and most famous victim of “the graveyard of the Great Lakes,” a region that’s littered with at least 240 shipwrecks.

All 29 crew members of the Edmund Fitzgerald perished. Each year on November 10th, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point holds a memorial service. A bell is tolled 29 times for the Fitzgerald’s crew, plus a 30th time in honor of the estimated 30,000 victims from over 6,000 ships that have gone down in the Great Lakes since the 1600’s.

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