Thursday, August 22, 2013

Great Lakes Ghost Ship: Edmund Fitzgerald

It has been almost 40 years since the iron ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald, the largest ship on the Great lakes in the 1970s, gave up its battle against ferocious seas and slipped beneath Lake Superior’s cold tumultuous surface. 

Edmund Fitzgerald

On November 9, 1975, a storm was brewing as the Fitzgerald left Duluth, Minnesota, bound for the Zug Island docks in Detroit, Michigan. 

But without today's more precise GPS tracking systems she was unable to pinpoint her position, *which put her in harm’s way.

The freighter, Arthur M. Anderson was 15 miles behind her when the two crews radioed each other about the brutal gale-force winds. 

Within minutes the captain of the Fitzgerald, Ernest McSorley radioed that his ship was damaged and had a list--it was taking on water. 

McSorley requested the Anderson be its radio eyes for the rest of the trip to Whitefish Bay. The last radio communication from the Fitzgerald came at 7:10 p.m., just nine miles short of safety. McSorley stated:

“One of the worst seas I have ever seen. We are holding our own.”

Five minutes later the Anderson’s radar lost the Fitzgerald. 

All 29 crew members perished when the Edmund Fitzgerald went down. No remains were ever recovered. 

Rogue waves or what are known as the "Three Sisters" ** -- massive 90 ft. waves-- are believed to have sunk the Fitzgerald. 

Ten years after the Fitzgerald sank, it was spotted once more on Lake Superior by a commercial vessel. This crew stated that they saw this large ship on a foggy night. 

They reported a "strange eerie atmosphere" at the time they spotted this ghost ship. The Edmund Fitzgerald remains at the bottom of this lake--500 feet down in two pieces.

* Ships that ply their trade on the Great Lakes today have better communication systems. Now there is radio reception on all sections of these lakes. 

With cellphones and digital satellites-- weather forecasts are given in real-time. The Fitzgerald might have survived if this kind of technology had been available in 1975. 

But many seasoned sailors point out that despite this technology the lakes' mighty wind and water can still, sink ships.

** The phenomenon known as Three Sisters is a series of waves that have been known to hit Lake Superior. Three large waves form, the second wave hits the ship's deck before the first wave clears. The third incoming wave adds to the two accumulated backwashes and suddenly overloads the ship's deck with tons of water.

In 1976, one of my all-time favorite singers, Gordon Lightfoot, immortalized the Fitzgerald in his ballad, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

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