SS Edmund Fitzgerald

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SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter launched on June 8, 1958. Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin, on the afternoon of Sunday, November 9, 1975, under the command of Captain Ernest M. McSorley. It was en route to the steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, Michigan, with a full cargo of taconite. A second freighter under the command of Captain Jesse B. "Bernie" Cooper, Arthur M. Anderson, destined for Gary, Indiana out of Two Harbors, Minnesota, joined up with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, being the faster ship, took the lead while Anderson trailed not far behind. The weather forecast was not unusual for November and called for a storm to pass over eastern Lake Superior and small craft warnings. Late in the afternoon of Monday, November 10, sustained winds of 50 knots were observed across eastern Lake Superior. Anderson was struck by a 75-knot (86 mph) hurricane-force gust. At 3:30 p.m., Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson to report that she was taking on water and had top-side damage including that the Fitzgerald was suffering a list, and had lost two vent covers and some railings. Two of the Fitzgerald's six bilge pumps were running continuously to discharge shipped water. At about 3:50 p.m., McSorley called the Anderson to report that his radar was not working and he asked the Anderson to keep them in sight while he checked his ship down so that the Anderson could close the gap between them. Fitzgerald was ahead of Anderson at the time, effectively blind; therefore, she slowed to come within 10 miles range so she could receive radar guidance from the other ship. Around 5:30 p.m., Woodward called the Fitzgerald again to report that the Whitefish point light was back on but not the radio beacon. When McSorley replied to the Avafors, he commented, "We're in a big sea. I've never seen anything like it in my life." The last communication from the doomed ship came at approximately 7:10 p.m., when Anderson notified Fitzgerald of an upbound ship and asked how it was doing. McSorley reported, "We are holding our own." A few minutes later, it apparently sank; no distress signal was received. Ten minutes later Anderson could neither raise Fitzgerald by radio, nor detect it on radar. At 8:32 p.m., Anderson was finally able to convince the U. S. Coast Guard that the Fitzgerald had gone missing. The large waves of the storm play a role in all of the published theories regarding her sinking; they differ on the other contributing causes. When Fitzgerald first vanished, it was widely believed the boat had snapped in half on the lake surface owing to storm action. Similar surface breakups in the past suggested bow and stern sections would be found miles apart on the lake floor. When underwater surveys revealed these sections were just yards from each other, it was initially concluded that Fitzgerald had instead separated upon hitting the lake floor. A Coast Guard investigation postulated that the accident was caused by ineffective hatch closures. These devices were unable to prevent waves from inundating the cargo hold. The flooding occurred gradually and probably imperceptibly throughout the final day, and finally resulted in a fatal loss of buoyancy and stability. As a result, the boat plummeted to the bottom without warning. Another published theory contends that an already weakened structure, and modification of the winter load line (allowing heavier loading, and travel 39" lower in the water) contributed to the large waves causing a stress fracture in the hull. It postulated this based on the "regular" huge waves of the storm, i.e. not necessarily involving rogue waves. The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is the most famous disaster in the history of Great Lakes shipping. At the time of its launching, it was one of the first boats to be at or near maximum "St Lawrence Seaway Size" which was 730 feet (220 m) long and 75 feet (23 m) wide. From its launching in 1958 until 1971 the Fitzgerald continued to be one of the largest boats on the Great Lakes. The disaster was the subject of Gordon Lightfoot's 1976 hit song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]





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