To the editor:
On November 9, 1975 (45 years ago), a gigantic ore freighter, The Edmund Fitzgerald, left Superior, Wisconsin, loaded with 26,000 tons of iron ore under the direction of Capt. Ernest M. McSorley. Following closely behind was the Arthur M. Anderson captained by Bernie Cooper. The two ships maintained frequent radio contact.
As the weather forecast was for a possible severe storm, and the weather was indeed deteriorating rapidly, the two boats decided to traverse Lake Superior by a northerly route close to Canada that was a bit more sheltered than some other options. At one point they passed between Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula of upper Michigan. By that night, the wind was gusting to 50 knots or more, with poor visibility and heavy seas. By the morning of the following day, Nov. 10, 1975, somewhere on Lake Superior, the two ships basically passed the point of no return.
That afternoon, for unknown reasons, the Fitzgerald passed directly over a dangerous shallows called Six Fathom Shoal, according to Capt. Cooper of the Anderson. Whether this happened due to human error, faulty navigational equipment, or a terrific gust of wind, will never be known. By afternoon, Capt. McSorley reported to Capt. Cooper that the Fitzgerald had problems: a rail down, two vents out of order, and the ship was listing, despite both pumps running nonstop. McSorley reported that he was going to slow down, and asked Cooper to stay close by.
About 6:55 p.m., the Anderson just managed to stay afloat despite being hit by two monster waves, which then moved in the direction of the Fitzgerald. In her already-damaged condition, the Fitzgerald would surely have a hard time surviving those monsters. Anderson’s First Mate, Clark, last spoke to Fitzgerald’s Capt. McSorley at about 7:10 p.m. Clark called the Fitzgerald again at 7:22 p.m.
There was no answer… then or ever.
Around 8 p.m., Capt. Cooper called the Coast Guard and expressed grave concern regarding the Fitzgerald. The Coast Guard asked him to mount a search, which he did despite dangerous conditions, as did one other ship, the William Clay Ford, but without success. The Coast Guard later searched for wreckage, which was finally definitively identified and photographed the following spring on May 20, 1976.
The official Coast Guard report, issued April 15, 1977, pointed to incompletely closed hatches as a principal possible cause of the tragedy, but this conclusion has been vigorously disputed by some experts as well as by freshwater sailors. In the end, the sinking of the Fitzgerald remains a mystery that will forever haunt Lake Superior… especially when the gales of November blow.