Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The 40th Anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Edmund Fitzgerald in calmer times. (Photo: Bob Campbell)

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T'was the witch of November come stealin'.

Gordon Lightfoot
© 1976 Moose Music, Inc.

It was 40 years ago, November 10, 1975 at approximately 7:20 pm that the iron ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald went down in a fierce fall storm on Lake Superior. While weather played a definite role, the exact details of the sinking of the ship remains a mystery today, it went down quickly and with very little warning, taking 29 lives with her. The sinking was caused in part by a strong November Gale or "November Witch". Oddly enough on this 40th Anniversary, we have a similar but weaker storm heading from Colorado towards the Great Lakes over the next 72 hours. A gale watch is in effect as the system is expected to produce rough waters, strong winds, snow and rain.

The mangled lifeboat was recovered shortly after the sinking, showing the power of the wind and waves that night. (mghd.org)
The 1975 storm was as intense as they come with 20 foot waves on Lake Superior and winds gusting well over 50 knots. The severe weather was confined to an area along the immediate trajectory of the storm,  and especially rough in the waters of eastern Lake Superior, exactly where the Edmund Fitzgerald was. It was a case of the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. The storm was known as a weather bomb with rapidly dropping pressure from 1000mb over Kansas to 978mb over James Bay in less than 24 hours. The rapid intensification caught the ship and its crew almost without warning. Several memorial services have been planned today including the annual event at Whitefish Point, Michigan, not far from the final resting place of the majestic ship and her crew of 29 brave men. The bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald was recovered in 1995 and has been rung 30 times each year at Whitefish Point on the anniversary of her sinking. This represents all 29 men on board as well as the many others who have perished on Lake Superior. The ship sits in 162 metres (about 530 feet) of water just inside the Canadian boundary, 17 miles north of Whitefish Point, Michigan in Lake Superior.
The chilling image of the Edmund Fitzgerald, resting as a memorial to her 29 man crew in 530 feet of water in  Lake Superior. (Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum Photo)
The Edmund Fitzgerald had left Superior, Wisconsin late in the day on November 9th, 1975 with a cargo of 26,116 tons of taconite pellets on her way to Detroit. There are a series of photos, information and very chilling radio chatter from 1975 at www.shipwreckmuseum.com/edmundfitzgerald

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