44 years ago – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald


44 years ago the Edmund Fitzgerald was making her way across Lake Superior loaded with iron ore pellets. The November storm hit and the crew of the Fitz battled through 70 knot winds and 30 foot waves.  Just shy of shelter at Whitefish Bay, the Fitzgerald was lost with all hands.

Across Lake Superior today, people remember the storm, travelers between Wawa and the Soo remember that the waves washed across the causeway at Havilland Bay. At Split Rock Lighthouse, since 1985, the lighthouse has hosted a memorial ceremony and lighting the beacon.

Nov. 10 since 1985, the 10th anniversary of the wreck, the lighthouse has hosted a memorial ceremony and beacon lighting. Starting at about 4:30 p.m., the names of the lost Fitzgerald crew will be read as a bell tolls 29 times. After that, lighthouse staff will toll the bell once more — a 30th time — to remember all lost mariners. The beacon is then lit.

Tonight at 7 p.m., Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Sault Sainte Marie will toll the raised bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald 29 times for each man who perished on her 44 years ago today. This ceremony will be streamed from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, 17 miles southeast of where the Fitzgerald sank.

November 10, 1975

Captain McSorley (C.M.) to Captain Cooper (C.C.):

3:30 PM – C.M.: “Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have sustained some topside damage. I have a fence rail laid down, two vents lost or damaged, and a list. I’m checking down. Will you stay by me til I get to Whitefish?”

C.C.: “Charlie on that Fitzgerald. Do you have your pumps going?”

C.M.: “Yes, both of them

4:10 PM – The Fitzgerald radios the Arthur M. Anderson:

Fitzgerald: “Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have lost both radars. Can you provide me with radar plots till we reach Whitefish Bay?”
Anderson: “Charlie on that, Fitzgerald. We’ll keep you advised of position.”

About 4:39 PM -The Fitzgerald cannot pick up the Whitefish Point radio beacon. The Fitzgerald radios the Coast Guard station at Grand Marais on Channel 16, the emergency channel. The Fitzgerald reestablishes contact on 22.

Between 4:30 and 5:00 PM -The Edmund Fitzgerald calls for any vessel in the Whitefish Point area regarding information about the beacon and light at Whitefish Point. They receive an answer by Woodard of the saltwater vessel Avafors. McSorley is informed that the beacon and the light are not operating.

Estimated between 5:30 and 6:00 PM -The Avafors radios the Edmund Fitzgerald:

Avafors: “Fitzgerald, this is the Avafors. I have the Whitefish light now but still am receiving no beacon. Over.”

Fitzgerald: “I’m very glad to hear it.”

Avafors: “The wind is really howling down here. What are the conditions where you are?”

Fitzgerald: (Unintelligible shouts heard by the Avafors.) “DON’T LET NOBODY ON DECK!”

Avafors: “What’s that, Fitzgerald? Unclear. Over.”

Fitzgerald: “I have a bad list, lost both radars. And am taking heavy seas over the deck. One of the worst seas I’ve ever been in.”

Avafors: “If I’m correct, you have two radars.”

Fitzgerald: “They’re both gone.”

Sometime before 7:00 PM – The Anderson is struck by two huge waves that put water on the ship, 35 feet above the water line. The waves hit with enough force to push the starboard lifeboat down, damaging the bottom.

7:10 PM – The Fitzgerald is still being followed by the Arthur M. Anderson. They are about 10 miles behind the Fitzgerald. The conversation between McSorley and the first mate of the Anderson:

Anderson: “Fitzgerald, this is the Anderson. Have you checked down?”

Fitzgerald: “Yes we have.”

Anderson: “Fitzgerald, we are about 10 miles behind you, and gaining about 1 1/2 miles per hour. Fitzgerald, there is a target 19 miles ahead of us. So the target would be 9 miles on ahead of you.”

Fitzgerald: “Well, am I going to clear?”

Anderson: “Yes. He is going to pass to the west of you.”

Fitzgerald: “Well, fine.”

Anderson: “By the way, Fitzgerald, how are you making out with your problem?”

Fitzgerald: “We are holding our own.”

Anderson: “Okay, fine. I’ll be talking to you later.”

They never did speak later…The 29 men on board the Fitzgerald will never again speak with anyone outside of the ship.

Sometime between 7:10 and 7:30 PM. It is estimated that this was the time period when the ship vanished and sank.

7:15 PM – The Fitzgerald enters a squall while still on Lake Superior; the squall obscures the vessel from radar observation by the Anderson, this is normal when in a squall.

7:25 PM – Edmund Fitzgerald disappears from the radar of the S.S. Arthur M. Anderson

7:55 PM – The Anderson calls again and informs the Coast Guard that they have lost the Fitzgerald both visually and on radar.

Brenda Stockton
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