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  • Aftermath

The Story of the Edmund Fitzgerald

audio link The Coast Guard conducted a thorough search in the next several days. On the 14th, a U.S. Navy plane with a special magnetic anomaly detector located a strong contact about 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point. During the next three days, the Coast Guard cutter Woodrush located two large pieces of wreckage in the same area under about 535 feet of water. A Navy underwater recovery vehicle on May 20, 1976, photographed the wreckage. The pictures clearly showed the words "Edmund Fitzgerald on the stern piece of the sunken ship.

Since the Fitzgerald never called for help and the ship’s lifeboats were found badly damaged--indicating they were never launched but instead smashed while still secured to the ship-the Coast Guard determined the ship sank abruptly. The Coast Guard concluded these were the primary factors that caused the Fitzgerald to sink:

 

  1. The Fitzgerald sat very low in the water, increasing the frequency and quantity of water that could flood the deck.
  2. The loose hatch covers allowed water spilling onboard to enter the cargo area, causing the ship to sink even lower and take on more and more water.
  3. More water could have entered through damage in the hull caused by the possible grounding near Caribou Island.

Although there is speculation that the Fitzgerald broke in half on the surface as the bow and stern rode the crests of the two large waves that struck the Anderson earlier, the Coast Guard’s final report suggests the Fitzgerald instead nose dived into a large wave, was unable to recover because it had lost so much buoyancy, and plunged to the bottom of Lake Superior in seconds. As the heavy cargo shifted forward quickly while the Fitzgerald was going down, the bow of the ship hit the bottom with such force that the vessel snapped in two. Of course, there are no witnesses to verify these conclusions.

Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the loss of the Fitzgerald and all 29 aboard with his 1976 hit song "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." On July 4, 1995, divers recovered the Fitzgerald’s bell from the bottom of Lake Superior, replacing it with a replica engraved with the names of the crew. In a ceremony at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point on November 10, 1995, the bell was presented to the relatives of the crew and rung 30 times:once for each member of the crew and a final time in honor of all those who have lost their lives at sea. The bell remains at the Shipwreck Museum today.

audio link Notification of the loss of the Fitzgerald
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