Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Edmund Fitzgerald, launched June 1958, Sank November 1975

The Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest Great Lakes freighter of it's time and the last and largest to be lost on the Great Lakes. The only thing I knew about the ship was from Gordon Lightfoot's song, which I actually learned to play back in the day.

Until I read this  article about a ceremony that is planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The famed 222-metre ore freighter that sunk on Nov. 10, 1975 during a Lake Superior storm killed all 29 hands. The ship was originally launched in 1958 and the accident was huge news back in 1975, with conflicting theories on the cause.

The Original Theory for the accident
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 Alternative Theory
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.
Discovery Channel Conclusion
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 Edmund Fitzgerald. As per the investigation, it was theorized that the SS Edmund 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 in ultimo, or in conclusion, that the SS Edmund Fitzgerald took on water through the damaged cargo hold covers and was then overwhelmed by the third wave.
The Mariners' Church in Detroit still rings its bell on November 10th, 29 times, once for each life lost.

And Gordon Lightfoot wrote one hell of a song.

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