The Tragic Sinking Of The Ss Edmund Fitzgerald: The Investigation Continues

3432 words - 14 pages

Turner 8Jacob E. TurnerProfessor Jaqueline JusticeGSW 11203 July 2014The Tragic Sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald: The Investigation ContinuesMany people know of shipwrecks such as the Titanic, yet not many people know about the massive freighter, SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior. Though some people say that no one will ever know what truly happened due to no distress or radio signals having been reported when the ship went down, tests have shown that hurricane force winds, the deadly winter storm, up to 40 foot waves on Lake Superior that day and the fact that the ship was experiencing technical problems, are the reason that the freighter sunk suddenly with no warning. Dives to the vessel have been accomplished over the years as well, to prove what happened the ship; however, these dives have recently come to a halt. Divers should continue to explore the wreckage and investigate the ship, recover important artifacts and help bring closure to the families involved.Prior to the ship's tragic demise, the Edmund Fitzgerald held the title of the largest ship ever to sail the great lakes and currently remains the largest ship ever to sink in the great lakes. The supposed mystery of the freighter's sinking compels common conversation. On a cold November day, in the Canadian waters of the great lakes, disaster struck the Edmund Fitzgerald. A massive winter storm in the area produced hurricane force winds, hail, sleet and waves reaching up to 40 feet high. Throughout this storm, the ship failed to give off distress signals or radio communications before it suddenly sank without a trace nor sound. How a ship this large could be taken down with such lack of warning and without anyone's knowledge is the so-called mystery argued between people. However, this sinking was no mystery.A brief history of the ship may be offered to assist people who are unaware of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, to help them understand why the sinking of the freighter was such a tragic loss and mystery. The freighter, launched in 1958, was deemed spectacular. This freighter was the largest ship ever to travel among the great lakes commercially or recreationally. For nearly twenty years, the freighter repeatedly carried cargo across the great lakes without incident. The ship was the pride and joy of the great lakes area. However, on November ninth, nineteen seventy-five, everything changed. But why does what really happened remain veiled in such mystery?With all of the questions behind the ship sinking, one inevitable answer remains; there is, in fact, no mystery at all. The ship was not in adequate shape when the storm hit at its peak. It contacted a Swedish vessel known as the Avafors, which was docked at a port around twenty miles away from their current position. The Edmund Fitzgerald radioed the vessel, relaying, "We are taking heavy seas over our decks, it is the worst sea that I've ever been in, we have a bad list and our radar is completely gone" (McInnis 37). When a ship lists, it means that it is leaning to one side (left, right, front or back) due to flooding or uneven cargo loading. The Edmund Fitzgerald reported that it was leaning to an alarming degree and continued taking heavy seas over the deck. This was just an hour and a half before the ship sank. If the ship was listing harshly to one side and a large wave, such as a rogue wave, crashes into the ship at the correct angle, the vessel held no chance of survival. Along with that risk, this was not the only problem that the freighter encountered.During that radio message, the Fitzgerald also reported losing both of the ships radars completely. The ship was in the middle of a massive storm, at night, with no radar to inform them of where they were headed. This is another reason the ship eventually sank to the depths of Lake Superior. The ship was unable to see where it was headed, where to go and how to get there. The only navigational help they retained was that of another freighter they were traveling with, the SS Arthur M. Anderson. However, the Anderson was ten miles behind the Edmund Fitzgerald and not beside it. In the midst of such an incomprehensible storm, where it was difficult to even stay afloat, it would be next to impossible to gather directions and navigate simultaneously. Once again though, that is not the only other reason why the Fitzgerald sunk and the Anderson did not.The meteorological report also states that the worst part of the storm hit exactly where the Edmund Fitzgerald was sailing. The most dangerous part of this storm just barely missed the Arthur M. Anderson because of the ten mile gap between vessels. An article describing the storm talks of this situation when it says, "The Edmund Fitzgerald was located in a precarious position at this time, at the eastern edge of the zone of highest winds, where the maximized fetch distance would produce the highest wind waves" (Hultquist 617). This also shows that while the ship was already listing, it hit the eye of the storm in which there were the highest winds and the highest waves. About the same time as the ship relayed that it was listing terribly, the worst part of the storm hit the vessel. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald did not stand a chance.As for the magnitude of storms that are possible on the great lakes, take the massive storm that hit the region in nineteen thirteen for example. The storm of nineteen thirteen struck on the same span of a few days as the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald sixty two years later. The storm was the worst storm on record to hit in the area and remains so to this day. In an article called Freshwater Fury, which describes the awful winter storm that also hit the great lakes some time ago, it says, "In the most destructive natural disaster to hit the region within recorded history, hurricane-force winds combined with wet snow and freezing temperatures to wreak havoc on land and on water" (Kemp). This storm may not be in the same time period as the storm that hit the Fitzgerald but it does show the magnitude at which storms on the great lakes can amount to and the devastation that they can inflict on anything in their paths. The storm of nineteen thirteen was responsible for the loss of nineteen vessels and the deaths of two hundred fifty six people who were crew members on the different ships. If people did not think storms on the great lakes could be massive and devastating, now it is known. Storms on these lakes can strike hard, fast and they can strike with absolutely no warning. This is precisely why the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is not so mysterious after all.Many different people have attempted a variety of things to prove what caused the ship to sink. However one of the most detailed and anticipated attempts, took place at a University located near the source of the storms. This was a quote in an article from the Michigan Tech University newspaper that informs us that they were going to produce a test. This experiment was to be performed, "in a fifty-foot wave tank that will be affiliated with the new Upper Great Lakes Laboratory (UGLL), scientists may finally be able to determine what actually caused the fabled shipwreck" (Donovan). This investigative experiment finally shows that huge waves, maybe even a rogue wave and high winds caused the SS Edmund Fitzgerald to fall to the dark cold depths of Lake Superior. Despite looking for minor details related to the shipwreck, it's pretty evident as to why the ship sankSo, as you can see, this wreck is no mystery at all. People will always argue that it is a mystery and we will never know for sure what caused the freighter to sink. This is because the last thing the Fitzgerald said was "we are holding our own" (Huldquist 610). However, if you think logically and put the facts that have been given together, it is plain to determine the reason the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk to the bottom of Lake Superior. However, the argument will always continue, which is what brings me to my next point on another controversial topic. Since people have deemed this wreck so mysterious, divers have been sent down over the years to investigate the wreckage. Should we be continuing to send divers down to the wreckage to investigate?Ever since the wreck occurred we have sent divers down to the wreckage to try to find out what happened to the ship, collect artifacts and provide closure for the families affected. The dives should in fact continue on through today for the reasons listed above. In one dive that was performed, the divers cut the supports of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald's bell and brought it to the surface. The surfacing of the bell was described as such: "Family members of the missing crew, as well as the media, were anxiously awaiting the surfacing of the Edmund Fitzgerald's bell and it was quite an emotional few minutes as the bell broke the surface and was hoisted aboard" (McInnis 40). This extraordinary artifact boarded the diving ship ringing. The artifact now sits in the Great Lakes Ship Wreck Museum as a memorial for all of its lost crew members. This was done at the request of the families of the crew members. This truly helps these families bond together and find closure for the losses of their loved ones.The bodies of the crew members were thought to be long gone as no dive had ever seen or discovered a crew member in or anywhere around the Edmund Fitzgerald. Amazingly though, on another series of dives in July and August of Nineteen Ninety Four, they recovered something simply astonishing. They found the preserved body of a crew member on the sea floor. When discovered, the quote "Coverall-clad and still wearing a life vest" is described as what the member was wearing (McInnis 41). This was not originally considered possible, but the dive captured it all on tape. Although closure was given in a little form, the families all decided that they did not want the body to be removed from the sea floor. This was because the families viewed the ship as the common grave site for all of the crew members. People may attempt to argue the fact that the dives are useless and that we should not be continuing, but with evidence such as that gained thus far, there is no denying that there is still information, artifacts and other knowledge to be found from diving to investigate the wreckage.The reason that there are still things to be seen and learned by investigating this wreckage is because water, especially cold, deep water is a place where things may be preserved and rediscovered over time. The Edmund Fitzgerald was a massive vessel and still has a lot of mystery and theories surrounding it. The ship had twenty nine crew members and over twenty six thousand tons of cargo on board when it sank to the depths of Lake Superior. The ship, due to the fact that it sank in such cold, deep water and the fact that it was also freshwater, is still in excellent condition despite lying on the lake's floor for nearly forty years. Why stop the investigative dives when such a great amount of information lies hidden on the floor of Lake Superior? There is still so much to learn about the SS Edmund Fitzgerald and its crew members, which is why the investigative dives should continue.The last known official and legal dive took place in September of 1995. After this date, they stopped sending divers, submarines, and/or any other personnel or commercial vessel down to investigate the sunken freighter. This is why I believe that the dives should continue today because more artifacts and facts about the ship can be found to help the families and give a wider knowledge of the ship. The question that could often arise is, why continue to risk the lives of divers for something that is already been gone for so long? While yes, the dives do put the divers and the observers at risk, the reward, possible findings and knowledge that could be gained about the crew and the ship, could also go a long way in helping the family's closure with their loved ones.Some people will say that these dives were right to cease because of several different reasons. Some may say that it is forty years after the wreck, everything that could have been found or taken has been so already. As stated before, items are well preserved in the frigid water of Lake Superior. Things such as the bell of the ship, a body and other artifacts have been found preserved years after the ship sunk. To say that things are simply gone or ruined just because a certain number have years have passed, is incorrect.With all the talks about these dives, there is a difference between the category and amount of dives that should be continued. Dives by casual divers that are not for research but for the experience of seeing the ship should be stopped. The families of the crew feel the same way about the situation. People will argue that there is no way a casual diver could safely get to the depths of the wreck, so there is no need to pass legislation to ban casual dives, but, with the way that diving technology is advancing, soon enough casual divers with enough determination will be able to reach and explore the wreckage. This point is exactly what a woman by the name of Ruth Hudson, who's only son, Bruce, was a victim of the tragedy, stated in an interview. Ruth had this to say when she was asked about casual divers: "We feel that as more technology becomes available there will be more divers going down there and picking it apart" (New York Times). This was just one of the family members who spoke ill of casual dives. With that being said, why should casual divers be allowed to dive freely to the ship if it is against the wishes of the people who have the closest ties to the scene? They shouldn't. These unsanctioned dives should be banned because the families of the sailors do not want random divers down in the wreckage who have the opportunity to desecrate the ship and so to say, graveyard of members of their families. Still, this is not the only argument people have.Other people argue that if research dives are allowed, why casual dives should be banned. This argument is supported in a statement made by a casual diver who is attracted to great lake ship wrecks by the name of David Trotter. In an article for the New York Times, Mr. Trotter was quoted saying, "We don't allow people to desecrate cemeteries, but we don't prevent people from visiting cemeteries.'' This quote presents the attitude that anyone should be allowed to visit the ship wreck if they choose. With legislation which protects ship wrecks and the fact that this is a highly historical wreck, these divers should not be allowed to come and go as they please. The risk of the ship being desecrated and items being taken for personal reward or achievement without being caught is high, which is why casual divers should be kept away.Throughout the years, the wreckage of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald and how it happened has been a mystery, or at least considered a mystery by the public. After meteorological reports and reconstruction, hurricane gale force winds, an ice storm, up to 40 foot waves, technological problems and others problems concerning the boats sturdiness, the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is not a mystery but simply a causality of brutal storms on the great lakes. Even though some people say that no one will ever know what truly happened because no distress or radio signals were ever reported as to what happened before the sinking, evidence to the contrary has surfaced in past years. Also during this stretch of years, there has been multiple research dives down to the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. These dives have stopped though due to controversy about whether they should continue. People say that because the ship sinking is so old, it is said that no bodies will ever be found, nothing can be discovered but that is simply not true. Twenty years after the wreck when it was thought that all bodies were long gone, a body was found and well preserved. Therefore there is still more items that can be discovered still up to this day. I think that it is time we continue these dives and also time to declare this ship and it's sinking no longer a mystery.This historic vessels tragic loss has been haunting the world as a so called mystery for many years now. As this paper shows, the ship wreck and sinking is no mystery at all. When a ship that is carrying as much cargo while having as many problems with the freighter as were stated earlier in the essay with no radar and deadly conditions, it is easy to see how and why the ship plunged to the bottom of the lake so suddenly. As to why the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank and its sailing partner the SS Arthur M. Anderson survived and made it to port is no mystery either as it was stated earlier. The Arthur M. Anderson was approximately ten to eleven miles behind the massive freighter which caused it to miss the most dangerous part of the storm that struck the Fitzgerald fast and hard. Hopefully with this new information, there is no longer the thought that this ship sinking was a mystery and it is now understood that the historic SS Edmund Fitzgerald sunk due to the horrific weather conditions and the technical problems the vessel was dealing with that fateful day.Works CitedHultquist, Thomas R., Michael R. Dutter, and David J. Schwab. "Reexamination of the 9-10 November 1975 "Edmund Fitzgerald" Storm Using Today's Technology." AMERICAN METEOROLOGICAL SOCIETY (2006): 607-22. Web. 25 June 2014.wKemp, Bruce. "Freshwater Fury." Canada's History 93.5 (2013): 36. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 13 June 2014.Marsh, Betsa. "Deep Secrets." Saturday Evening Post 283.2 (2011): 36-40. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 June 2014.McInnis, Joseph B. ""The Legend Lives On..." Diving the Edmund Fitzgerald. "Diver Magazine n.d.: 35-41. Web. 25 June 2014."Plumbing the Great Lake's Secrets." Research (Michigan Technological University) (2009): 4-7. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 June 2014."Worries about Intruders at Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald." The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Nov. 2000. Web. 01 July 2014.


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