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What caused Edmund Fitzgerald to sink?

What caused Edmund Fitzgerald to sink?

Auto, Aviation & Transportation

Edmund Fitzgerald, 1971

The Edmund Fitzgerald was a bulk carrier ship that sank on November 10, 1975, in Lake Superior. The ship was carrying a cargo of taconite pellets from Superior, Wisconsin to Detroit, Michigan, when it encountered a severe storm with hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 feet high.

Weather map of November 10, 1975.

All 29 crew members on board the ship perished in the tragedy.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald upbound and in ballast
SS Edmund Fitzgerald, upbound and in ballast

A taconite pellet is a type of iron ore pellet made from a low-grade iron ore called taconite. A sedimentary rock that contains iron, silica, and other minerals. Typically found in the Great Lakes region of the United States, particularly in Minnesota.

Taconite pellets are used as a raw material in the steelmaking process. Created by crushing and grinding taconite ore into a fine powder, then adding a binder and rolling the mixture into small balls. The pellets then become fired in a furnace to harden them and remove any remaining moisture.

Laid down on August 7, 1957 with a length of 729 feet, she had a net registered tonnage of 8,713.

During the winter of ’71-72 she received a conversion to oil fuel and the fitting of automated boiler controls.

At the time of the incident Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Company of Cleveland, Ohio operated her. In addition, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company was actually the owner.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway
SS Edmund Fitzgerald under way

The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the most famous maritime disasters in modern history entered a place of cult status. Furthermore, becoming the subject of many books, songs, and films. The exact cause of the sinking still remains unknown. However, many believe that the ship took on water through one of its hatches, causing it to become unstable, capsize and sink.

Specifically, in the first official 1977 report released on the incident the Coast Guard said uncontrollable flooding of the cargo hold was the likely culprit. As a result of either faulty or poorly fastened hatch covers.

Apparently, the slow flooding supposedly became undetected by the captain and crew. Eventually the flooding resulted in an imperceptible however fatal loss of buoyancy.

Additionally, because the ship did not possess depth sounding technology, the crew wouldn’t have become able to detect the breach of incoming water slowly pushing the ship lower. Of course, until the lake water exceeded the height of the iron ore in the holds. In addition, Coast Guard cited reports of damage to the Fitzgerald’s hatches that were planned for winter repair.

Of course, the Lake Carriers Association (LCA) blamed grounding on the not-well-marked Six Fathom Shoal northwest of Caribou Island.

“Minnesota tugboat captain Bob Hom, who sailed with McSorley before the man became captain of the Fitzgerald, claims McSorley once told him five years before the sinking he’d hate to be on the Fitzgerald in a big storm because ‘They got it all worn out from years of overloading,'” Hom told the Duluth News-Tribune. “They were killing the boat,” he said. “It was designed to haul a certain amount and they kept getting the Coast Guard to increase the load line.” In fact, the Fitzgerald — known as a workhorse ship that set numerous cargo hauling records — was allowed by 1975 to sit a touch over 3 feet deeper in the water when laden with cargo than originally intended when the ship was launched in 1958.”

One other theory quite popular is that of the rogue wave. Author Hugh Bishop wrote about the possible culprit becoming the “Three Sisters” theory in 2000. This theory speculated about a trio of rogue waves that potentially overwhelmed the ship in a very quick succession. The Fitzgerald was in an area of the lake where huge waves were indeed occurring.

The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald became discovered on May 20, 1976!

A team of researchers led by legendary undersea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard. Ballard would enjoy a meteoric rise to fame later in life for his discovery of the Titanic.

Found in two pieces, lying in 530 feet of Canadian (Ontario) waters, furthermore, approximately 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay.

Map of Fitzgerald's probable course on final voyage
The National Transportation Safety Board map of probable course of Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur M. Anderson
NTSB – Marine accident report SS Edmund Fitzgerald sinking in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 (PDF) 34. National Transportation Safety Board (1978-05-04). Retrieved on 2010-11-19.

The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is now a popular destination for divers, but it is also the final resting place for the 29 crew members who lost their lives in the tragedy.

USCG drawing of wreck site
A USCG drawing of the relative positions of the wreck parts

Lastly, the wreck site is officially protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, and visitors are not allowed to remove any artifacts or disturb the site in any way.

Edmund Fitzgerald lifeboat
One of Edmund Fitzgerald‘s lifeboats, on display at the Valley Camp museum ship
What caused Edmund Fitzgerald to sink?

6 theories on what caused the shipwreck –

What caused Edmund Fitzgerald to sink?