SS Edmund Fitzgerald - History - Search

Search

Captain Cooper of the Anderson first called the USCG in Sault Ste. Marie at 7:39 p.m. on channel 16, the radio distress frequency. The USCG responders instructed him to call back on channel 12 because they wanted to keep their emergency channel open and they were having difficulty with their communication systems, including antennas blown down by the storm. Cooper then contacted the upbound saltwater vessel Nanfri and was told that she could not pick up the Fitzgerald on her radar. Despite repeated attempts to raise the USCG, Cooper was not successful until 7:54 p.m. when the officer on duty asked him to keep watch for a 16-foot (4.9 m) outboard lost in the area. At about 8:25 p.m., Cooper again called the USCG to express his concern about the Fitzgerald and at 9:03 p.m. reported her missing. Petty Officer Philip Branch later testified, "I considered it serious, but at the time it was not urgent."

Lacking appropriate search-and-rescue vessels to respond to the Fitzgerald disaster, at approximately 9:00 p.m., the USCG asked the Anderson to turn around and look for survivors. Around 10:30 p.m., the USCG asked all commercial vessels anchored in or near Whitefish Bay to assist in the search. The initial search for survivors was carried out by the Anderson, and a second freighter, the SS William Clay Ford. The efforts of a third freighter, the Canadian vessel Hilda Marjanne, were foiled by the weather. The USCG sent a buoy tender, Woodrush, from Duluth, Minnesota, but it took two and a half hours to launch and a day to arrive at the search area. The Traverse City, Michigan, USCG station launched a HU-16 fixed-wing search aircraft that arrived on the scene at 10:53 p.m. while a HH-52 USCG helicopter with a 3.8-million-candlepower searchlight arrived at 1:00 a.m. on November 11. Canadian Coast Guard aircraft joined the three-day search and the Ontario Provincial Police established and maintained a beach patrol all along the eastern shore of Lake Superior.

Although the search recovered debris, including lifeboats and rafts, no survivors were found. On her final voyage the Fitzgerald's crew of 29 consisted of the captain, the first, second and third mates, five engineers, three oilers, a cook, a wiper, two maintenance men, three watchmen, three deckhands, three wheelsmen, two porters, a cadet and a steward. Most of the crew was from Ohio and Wisconsin; their ages ranged from 21-year-old deckhand Mark Andrew Thomas to Captain McSorley, 63 years old and planning his retirement.

The Fitzgerald is amongst the largest and best-known vessels lost on the Great Lakes but she is not alone on the Lake Superior seabed in that area. In the years between 1816, when the Invincible was lost, to the sinking of the Fitzgerald in 1975, the Whitefish Point area had claimed at least 240 ships.

Read more about this topic:  SS Edmund Fitzgerald, History

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