SS Edmund Fitzgerald

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald in May 1975, six months before she sank with all hands.
Name: SS Edmund Fitzgerald
Owner: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company
Operator: Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Company of Cleveland, Ohio
Port of Registry: United States
Ordered: 1 February 1957
Builder: Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan
Yard number: 301
Laid down: 7 August 1957
Launched: 8 June 1958
Christened: 8 June 1958
Completed: 7 June 1958
Maiden voyage: Sept. 24, 1958
Identification: Registry number US 277437
Nickname: "Mighty Fitz"
"The Fitz"
"The Big Fitz"
Fate: Lost in a storm on 10 November 1975 (no survivors)
General characteristics
Class and type: Lake freighter
Length: 729 ft (222.2 m) oa
Beam: 75 ft
Height: 38 ft
Depth: 39 ft
Installed power:

As built:

  • Coal fired Westinghouse Electric Corporation Steam Turbine 2 cylinder @ 7,500 SHP

After refit:

  • Conversion to oil fuel and the fitting of automated boiler controls over the winter of 1971-72.
  • Carried 72,000 U.S. gallons (60,000 imp gal; 273 m³) fuel oil
Propulsion: One 19.5 ft diameter propeller
Speed: 14 knots
Crew: 29

SS Edmund Fitzgerald (nicknamed "Mighty Fitz," "The Fitz," "The Big Fitz" or "The Drunken Fitz") was an American Great Lakes freighter launched on 8 June 1958. Until the 1970s, she was the largest ship on the Great Lakes.[1] Although it had reported having some difficulties during a gale on Lake Superior, the Fitzgerald sank suddenly on 10 November 1975 in 530 feet (162 m) of water without sending any distress signals. The site of the loss is at 46°59.9′N 85°06.6′W / 46.9983°N 85.11°W / 46.9983; -85.11, in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles (15 nmi; 27 km) from the entrance to Whitefish Bay. All 29 hands in the crew perished, presumably by drowning. The incident is the most famous disaster in the history of Great Lakes shipping,[2] and is the subject of Gordon Lightfoot's hit song, "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald." The precise cause of her sinking remains a mystery.


[edit] Construction

On 1 February 1957, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin contracted Great Lakes Engineering Works (GLEW), of River Rouge, Michigan, to design and build a taconite bulk carrier laker for Northwestern. The contract contained the stipulation that the boat be the largest on the Great Lakes. GLEW laid the keel on 7 August of that year, and some time between then and her christening and launch on 7 June 1958, Northwestern announced their decision to name the boat for their President and Chairman of the Board, Edmund Fitzgerald, whose own father had himself been a lake captain.[3][4]

The completed vessel had a capacity of 26,600 tons (24,131 tonnes). Her large cargo hold loaded through twenty-one watertight hatches, 11-feet 7-inches by 54 feet of 5/16 inch steel (3.53 m by 16.5 m of 8 mm steel). The boat's boilers were originally coal-fired, but would be converted to burn oil during the 1971-72 winter layup. With a length of 729 feet (222 m), she met the demanding stipulation of the contract and until 1971 was the largest boat on the Great Lakes.[5]

Over 15,000 people attended the Fitzgerald's launch. The event was troublesome. When Mrs. Edmund Fitzgerald christened the boat by smashing a champagne bottle over the bow, it took her three swings to break the bottle. The launch was delayed 36 minutes while the shipyard crew struggled to release the keel blocks. Upon launching sideways into the water, the boat crashed violently into a dock.[6]

[edit] History

Sea trials for the Fitzgerald began on 13 September 1958, and Northwestern handed the operation of the boat to the Columbia Transportation Division of the Oglebay Norton Corporation one week later. For the next 17 years, the Fitzgerald carried taconite from mines near Duluth, Minnesota to iron works in Detroit, Toledo and other ports. Prior to the events of 9 November 1975, she suffered five collisions, running aground in 1969, colliding with the S.S. Hochelaga in 1970 and then striking the wall of a lock later in the same year, hitting a lock's wall again in 1973, and then again the following year. She also lost her original bow anchor in the Detroit River in 1974.[4]

[edit] Final voyage and wreck

NTSB report probable tracks of Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur M. Anderson. (Click to enlarge)

Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin on the afternoon of Sunday, 9 November 1975 under Captain Ernest M. McSorley. She was en route to the steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, Michigan, with a full cargo of taconite.[7] A second freighter, 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.[8]

Crossing Lake Superior at about 13 knots (15 mph/24 km/h), the boats encountered a massive winter storm, reporting winds in excess of 50 knots (58 mph; 93 km/h) and waves as high as 35 feet (10 m). Because of the storm, the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie were closed. The freighters altered their courses northward, seeking shelter along the Canadian coast. Later, they would cross to Whitefish Bay to approach the locks.

Late in the afternoon of Monday, 10 November, sustained winds of 50 knots were observed across eastern Lake Superior. Anderson was struck by a 75-knot hurricane-force gust. At 3:30 pm Fitzgerald radioed Anderson to report a minor list developing and top-side damage including the loss of radar.[9] Visibility was poor due to heavy snow, and the Coast Guard warned all ships to find safe harbor.[10] Fitzgerald's two bilge pumps were running continuously to discharge shipped water. The lighthouse and navigational radio beacon at Whitefish Point had also been knocked out by the storm. 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. [9]

For a time Anderson directed the Fitzgerald toward the relative safety of Whitefish Bay. At 5:45 pm, Captain McSorley radioed another ship, Avafors, to report that Fitzgerald was suffering a bad list, had lost her radars, and had seas washing over her decks. McSorley described the situation as, "One of the worst seas I've ever been in." [9]

The last communication from the doomed ship came at approximately 7:10 pm, when Anderson notified Fitzgerald of being hit by rogue waves large enough to be caught on radar, that were heading Fitzgerald's way, and asked how she was doing. McSorley reported, "We are holding our own." A few minutes later, she apparently sank; no distress signal was received. Ten minutes later Anderson could neither raise Fitzgerald by radio, nor detect her on radar. At 8:32 pm, Anderson informed the U.S. Coast Guard of its concern for the ship.

[edit] Search

Once Anderson noted the loss of Fitzgerald, a search was launched for survivors. The initial search consisted of the Arthur M. Anderson, and a second freighter, SS William Clay Ford. The efforts of a third freighter, the Canadian vessel Hilda Marjanne, were foiled by the weather. The U.S. Coast Guard launched three aircraft, but could not mobilize any ships. A Coast Guard buoy tender, Woodrush, was able to launch within two and a half hours, but took a day to arrive. The search recovered debris, including lifeboats and rafts, but no survivors.

[edit] Underwater survey

NTSB drawing of the relative positions of the wreck parts.

The wreck was first located by a U.S. Navy aircraft with on-board magnetic anomaly detector equipment, normally used to detect submarines. The wreck was further surveyed using side scan sonar on 14 November to 16 November by the Coast Guard. The sonar revealed two large objects lying close together on the lake floor. A second survey took place from 22 November through 25 November by a private contractor, Seaward, Inc.

In 1976, from 20 May to 28 May, an unmanned U.S. Navy submersible photographed the wreck. This submersible, CURV III, consisted of an underwater vehicle connected via umbilical control to a surface support ship. On-board imaging equipment included one 35 mm still and two black-and-white video cameras. It found Edmund Fitzgerald lying in two large pieces in 530 feet (160 m) of water. The bow section, approximately 276 feet (84 m) long, lay upright in the mud. The stern section lay 170 feet (52 m) away, inverted (face down), at a 50-degree angle from the bow. Metal and taconite heaps between the bow and stern comprised the remnants of the mid-section.

[edit] Cause and controversy

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 concluded that Fitzgerald had instead broken 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.

The Coast Guard report proved controversial. The most common alternative theory contends that inoperative radar forced the crew to rely on inaccurate charts. As a result, Fitzgerald briefly ran aground or scraped a shoal near Caribou Island without the crew being aware of it. Consequently, she received bottom damage, which caused her to gradually take on water until she sank so suddenly in the deep water that none of her crew had time to react. The ship, pile-driving into the lake bottom, snapped in half, and its stern landed upside-down on the bottom. (If so, given the ship's length vs. the depth of the water, the stern could still have been above water when the bow hit bottom.) This theory is supported by final radio communications between Anderson and Fitzgerald; Anderson had been struck by two large waves that were heading toward Fitzgerald. If the hull had indeed been breached, it would be difficult to prove. Fitzgerald has settled in mud up to her load marks, making it impossible to inspect for damage.

A documentary created and aired by the Discovery Channel investigated a large "fold" found in the hull plating. Previous defects with cargo hold covers and clamps as well as cracking issues were also addressed. Through the use of wave tanks and computer simulation, the Discovery Channel team concluded the loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was due to a rogue wave. Reports show three large waves were detected, two of which were reported by the Anderson. As per the investigation, it was theorized that the Fitzgerald was badly battered by the first two waves, further damaging the dual radar (which shared a common antenna) and the hatch covers. It was surmised ultimately that the Fitzgerald took on water through the damaged cargo hold covers, which flooded the ore cargo and severely stressed the ship's hull, and was then overwhelmed by the third wave that snapped the weakened ship in half.

In passing, it should be noted that the SS Carl D. Bradley -- the largest freighter on the lakes and dubbed "Queen of the Lakes" until the Fitzgerald was launched -- suffered a similar fate in November, 1958. Thirty three crew perished, and two survived.[11] See also, SS Daniel J. Morrell.

Moreover, losses of even greater magnitude, measured by the number of ships involved and lives lost due to a 'freshwater snow-filled hurricane', have occurred in the past. See Great Lakes Storm of 1913 and Great Storms of the North American Great Lakes.

[edit] Memorials

One of the Edmund Fitzgerald's lifeboats, on display at the Valley Camp Museum ship.

The day after the wreck, Mariners' Church in Detroit rang its bell 29 times, once for each life lost. The church continues to hold an annual memorial, reading the names of the crewmen and ringing the church bell. On the 12th of November 2006, two days after the 31st anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the church broadened its memorial ceremony to include the more than 6,000 lives lost on the Great Lakes. In 2006, the bell at Mariners' Church tolled eight times, not the usual 29: five times for the 5 Great Lakes, a sixth time for the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, a seventh for the St. Lawrence Seaway and an eighth time for military personnel whose lives were lost.[12]

The ship's bell was recovered from the wreck on 4 July 1995 and is now in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point near Paradise, Michigan. An anchor from Fitzgerald lost on an earlier trip was recovered from the Detroit River and is on display at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum in Detroit, Michigan. Artifacts in the Steamship Valley Camp museum in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan include two lifeboats, (Lifeboat #2 is shredded like paper), photos, a movie of the Fitzgerald and commemorative models and paintings.

On every 10th of November the Split Rock Lighthouse in Silver Bay, Minnesota emits a light in honor of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Coast Guard Cutter Woodrush was replaced by a brand new buoy tender in 2001, USCGC Maple. On her maiden voyage, the Maple visited the final resting place of the Fitzgerald and dropped the last Woodrush life ring down to the wreck.

On 8 August 2007, a Michigan family discovered a lone life saving ring in a provincial park along the shores of Lake Superior that seemed to be from the Fitzgerald. It was thought to be a hoax because there are considerable differences in the markings of proven rings found at the wreck site. A recent Associated Press article published 20 August 2007 confirms that the life ring was indeed a memorial, not an artifact.[13]

[edit] Musical tributes

In 1976, Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot recorded the song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," commemorating the events surrounding the sinking of the ship.

In 1986, writer Steven Dietz and songwriter/lyricist Eric Peltoniemi wrote the musical Ten November in memory of the Fitzgerald's sinking. In 2005, the musical was re-edited into a new musical called The Gales Of November,[14] which opened on the 30th anniversary of the sinking at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

Also in 2005, Michigan based Northern-Rock band Great Lakes Myth Society included audio samples of transmissions from the Anderson relaying the suspected loss of the Fitzgerald to the Coast Guard in their song "Lake Effect."

Another 30th anniversary commemoration was a concerto entitled "The Edmund Fitzgerald" by American composer Geoffrey Peterson in 2002, which was premiered by the Sault Symphony Orchestra in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada in November 2005.[15]

[edit] One of many wrecks

Although she is the latest vessel lost, and the largest, Fitzgerald is not alone on the bottom. The Great Lakes have a long history of nautical disaster; nearly 6,000 shipwrecks have occurred since 1878, with about a quarter of those being listed as total losses.[citation needed] Some ships and crews simply vanished in storms. A number of diveable marine preserves have been established that contain multiple sunken ships.

In 2005, efforts were underway to establish in Washington, D.C. a memorial remembering all lost Great Lakes mariners. A campaign to establish the 10th November as "Great Lakes Mariners Day" fell short when in 1994, the House of Representatives ended the practice of annual Congressional recognition days.

[edit] Crew members

Edmund Fitzgerald's crew on her final voyage included:[16]

Last, First Position Age Hometown
Armagost, Michael E. Third Mate 37 Iron River, Wisconsin
Beetcher, Fred J. Porter 56 Superior, Wisconsin
Bentsen, Thomas D. Oiler 23 St. Joseph, Michigan
Bindon, Edward F. First Assistant Engineer 47 Fairport Harbor, Ohio
Borgeson, Thomas D. Maintenance Man 41 Duluth, Minnesota
Champeau, Oliver J. Third Assistant Engineer 41 Sturgeon Bay
Church, Nolan S. Porter 55 Silver Bay, Minnesota
Cundy, Ransom E. Watchman 53 Superior, Wisconsin
Edwards, Thomas E. Second Assistant Engineer 50 Oregon, Ohio
Haskell, Russell G. Second Assistant Engineer 40 Millbury, Ohio
Holl, George J. Chief Engineer 60 Cabot, Pennsylvania
Hudson, Bruce L. Deck Hand 22 North Olmsted, Ohio
Kalmon, Allen G. Second Cook 43 Washburn, Wisconsin
MacLellan, Gordon F. Wiper 30 Clearwater, Florida
Mazes, Joseph W. Special Maintenance Man 59 Ashland, Wisconsin
McCarthy, John H. First Mate 62 Bay Village, Ohio
McSorley, Ernest M. Captain 63 Toledo, Ohio
O'Brien, Eugene W. Wheelsman 50 Toledo, Ohio
Peckol, Karl A. Watchman 20 Ashtabula, Ohio
Poviach, John J. Wheelsman 59 Bradenton, Florida
Pratt, James A. Second Mate 44 Lakewood, Ohio
Rafferty, Robert C. Steward 62 Toledo, Ohio
Rippa, Paul M. Deck Hand 22 Ashtabula, Ohio
Simmons, John D. Wheelsman 63 Ashland, Wisconsin
Spengler, William J. Watchman 59 Toledo, Ohio
Thomas, Mark A. Deck Hand 21 Richmond Heights, Ohio
Walton, Ralph G. Oiler 58 Fremont, Ohio
Weiss, David E. Cadet 22 Agoura, California
Wilhelm, Blaine H. Oiler 52 Moquah, Wisconsin

[edit] References

  1. ^ Largest from 1958 until 1971
  2. ^ Gauper, Beth. "Lake Superior's Circle Tour provides everything a tourist's heart could desire -". Retrieved on 2008-04-21. "The most famous wreck is the Edmund Fitzgerald, whose bell occupies an exalted spot in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum." 
  3. ^ Graeme Zielinski, "Shipwreck overshadowed Fitzgerald's legacy," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 10, 2005.
  4. ^ a b McCall, Timothy. "Timeline of Events for the Edmund Fitzgerald". S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online. n.d. Retrieved 7 October 2006.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Andra-Warner, Elle (2006). The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: The Legendary Great Lakes Disaster. Altitude Publishing Canada Limited. ISBN 1554390079. 
  7. ^ The Story of the Edmund Fitzgerald (on the website of the National Weather Service Forecasting Office for Marquette, MI)
  8. ^ National Transportation Safety Board, "Marine Accident Report SS EDMUND FITZGERALD Sinking in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975", 4 May 1978.
  9. ^ a b c "NWS Marquette, MI". Retrieved on 2008-04-02. 
  10. ^ Nolan, Jenny. "". Retrieved on 2008-04-21. 
  11. ^ Carl D. Bradley home page.
  12. ^ CNN. Bell tolls for Edmund Fitzgerald. 13 November 2006.
  13. ^ "ABC News: Life Ring Not From Edmund Fitzgerald". Retrieved on 2008-04-02. 
  14. ^ "Minnesota Public Radio Presents". Minnesota Public Radio. 26 November 2005. Retrieved on 2008-11-14. 
  15. ^ "Edmund Fitzgerald" Piano Concerto to Commemorate 30th Anniversary of Famous Shipwreck". Sault Symphony Orchestra via eMediaWire. 15 September 2005. Retrieved on 2008-11-14. 
  16. ^ Jenny Nolan. The Detroit News. The fateful voyage of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Retrieved 13 April 2007.

[edit] Additional Reading

[edit] External links

Coordinates: 46°59.9′N 85°06.6′W / 46.9983°N 85.11°W / 46.9983; -85.11

Personal tools