|Surface map on November 6, 1975|
In Superior, Wisconsin the Edmund Fitzgerald was loaded with more than 26,000 tons of taconite pellets destined for a steel mill near Detroit. The weather while the Fitzgerald was in Superior was, well, superior. Temperatures early in the week reached 74°F, and when the Fitzgerald left port at 4:30 p.m. on November 9 the temperature was in the 50s°F and skies were cloudy. She soon joined up with the Arthur M. Anderson, another freighter which left Two Harbors, Minnesota bound for Gary, Indiana.
|Surface map for the morning of November 9, 1975|
At 7:00 p.m. the National Weather Service issued gale warnings for Lake Superior, forecasting E to NE winds during the night, shifting to NW to N by the afternoon of November 10. At approximately 10:40 p.m. the NWS revised its forecast for eastern Lake Superior to easterly winds becoming southeasterly the morning of the 10th. At about 2:00 am November 10 the NWS upgraded the gale warning to a storm warning with a prediction of "northeast winds 35 to 50 knots becoming northwesterly 28 to 38 knots on Monday, waves 8 to 15 feet". The captains of the two freighters decided to take a route closer to the Canadian shore which would protect them from the northeast winds.
|The surface weather map for the morning of |
November 10, 1975, about 12 hours before
the Edmund Fitzgerald sank.
The northwest winds were the worst possible situation for the Fitzgerald. The winds had a large fetch over open water allowing large waves to build. The Fitzgerald by this time was sailing southeast toward Whitefish Bay and passed over dangerous shallow water near Six Fathom Island.
At 3:30 p.m. on November 10 the captain of the Fitzgerald radioed the Anderson and reported that the ship was taking on water and listing. The Fitzgerald had also lost its radar, and was now relying on the Anderson to be its "eyes" in the storm. The first mate of the Anderson contacted the Fitzgerald at 7:10 p.m. and Caption McSorley of the Fitzgerald, when asked how they were doing, said "We are holding our own." At 7:15 p.m. the Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared from the radar.
On November 14 a Navy aircraft detected a large magnetic anomaly about 17 miles from Whitefish Point. A Coast Guard cutter located two large pieces of wreckage three days later using side scan sonar. In May 1976 a Navy controlled underwater recovery vehicle confirmed the wreckage was that of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
There are a number of theories on how the Fitzgerald sank. The initial theory was that the ship took on water through poorly sealed hatches, lost buoyancy, and sank when hit by huge waves. Another theory is that the ship may have been damaged in shallow water when it passed near Six Fathom Shoal. The debate continues to this day.
If you would like to read more about the Edmund Fitzgerald, check the following sources.
The Fateful Journey (The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum)
NTSB Marine Accident Report: SS EDMUND FITZGERALD Sinking in Lake Superior