The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

“The Lake, it is said, never gives up her dead.

When the skies of November turn gloomy.”

-Gordon Lightfoot

November 10, 1975  The bulk freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, Captain McSorley,  Master, sank in Lake Superior with all 29 hands.  The Fitzgerald cleared Superior, Wisconsin, on her last trip on November 9, 1975, with a cargo of 26,116 tons of taconite pellets consigned to Detroit. Traveling down Lake Superior in company with ARTHUR M. ANDERSON of the United States Steel Corporation’s Great Lakes Fleet, she encountered heavy weather and in the early evening of November 10th, suddenly foundered approximately 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay (47º North Latitude, 85º 7′ West Longitude)

Captain McSorley of the “FITZ” had indicated he was having difficulty and was taking on water. She was listing to port and had two of three ballast pumps working. She had lost her radar and damage was noted to ballast tank vent pipes and he was overheard on the radio saying, “don’t allow nobody (sic) on deck.” McSorley said it was the worst storm he had ever seen.


The ship lies broken in two sections in 530 feet of water.  Surveyed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1976 using the U.S. Navy CURV III system, the wreckage consisted of an upright bow section, approximately 275 feet long and an inverted stern section, about 253 feet long, and a debris field comprised of the rest of the hull in between. Both sections lie within 170 feet of each other.

The National Transportation Safety Board unanimously voted on March 23, 1978 to reject the U. S. Coast Guard’s official report supporting the theory of faulty hatches. Later the N.T.S.B. revised its verdict and reached a majority vote to agree that the sinking was caused by taking on water through one or more hatch covers damaged by the impact of heavy seas over her deck.
This is contrary to the Lake Carriers Association’s contention that her foundering was caused by flooding through bottom and ballast tank damage resulting from bottoming on the Six Fathom Shoal between Caribou and Michipicoten Islands.
The U.S. Coast Guard, report on August 2, 1977 cited faulty hatch covers, lack of water tight cargo hold bulkheads and damage caused from an undetermined source.

NTSB Report of Fitzgerald Sinking

The Fitz hull took a fatal blow on a shoal

This theory was advanced by the Lake Carriers Association (LCA) after the U.S. Coast Guard report and seems to be the most popular among mariners and armchair wreck investigators. The LCA thinks the Fitzgerald grounded on the poorly-marked Six Fathom Shoal northwest of Caribou Island, causing fatal damage to the hull. If the ship had “hogged” upon striking the shoal, it could have caused the topside damage reported by Fitzgerald captain Ernest McSorley in the hours before the sinking. However, divers found no recent damage to the shoal after the wreck and the ship’s exact course could only be estimated because the Fitzgerald radars were inoperable and the Anderson kept inexact course records during the journey. Of note, the NTSB report included a dissenting opinion that held to this theory. In a similar vein, Paul Hainault, a retired Michigan Tech University professor, postulated a seiche caused the ship to scrape the bottom of Superior Shoal early that morning and the weakened hull eventually gave out.


The Fitz Broke in Half

To explain the lack of shoal damage another theory has immerged.  In 1975, Rogue Waves were still in the realm of sea stories, unproven.  We now know they exist and can be monstrously huge.  Lake Superior is an Inland Sea and Rouge Waves have been observed.  The Fitz was 729 feet long.  If a rouge wave struck her astern, it could have easily driven her into the lake bed.  That’s the theory.  That a rogue wave drove her so deep that she struck and promptly broke in half.  No warning. No distress signal. No survivors.


The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald

Captain Ernest M. McSorley
Michael E. Armagost
Fred J. Beetcher
Thomas D. Bentsen
Edward F. Bindon
Thomas D. Borgeson
Oliver J. Champeau
Nolan S. Church
Ransom E. Cundy
Thomas E. Edwards
Russell G. Haskell
George J. Holl
Bruce L. Hudson
Allen G. Kalmon
Gorden Maclellan
Joseph Mazes
John H. McCarthy
Eugene O’Brien
Karl A. Peckol
John J. Poviach
James A. Pratt
Robert C. Rafferty
Paul M. Rippa
John D. Simmons
William J. Spengler
Mark A. Thomas
Ralph G. Walton
David E. Weiss
Blaine H. Wilhelm

Miraculous Rescue

On Sunday the 26th of May 2013 at 0430 HRS, oil rig support tug JASCON 4 capsized and sank in 30 meters of water about 30 kilometers off of the Nigerian coast. 

60 hours later the Dive Support Vessel  Lewek Toucan arrived to recover the bodies of the 12 man crew.

This is what happened next.

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Harrison Okene, 29, was the cook on the Jascon 4, an oil rig tug, when the boat capsized and sunk 100 feet into the ocean off the coast of Nigeria due to heavy ocean swells.  He had gotten up to use the bathroom.  He was in the Head when the ship capsized.  As the ship sunk, Okene was washed out of the Head, down a corridor and wound up in the Officer’s Head.


“Three guys were in front of me and suddenly water rushed in full force,” Okene told Reuters. “I saw the first one, the second one, the third one just washed away. I knew these guys were dead.”


Of the 12 members on the crew, Okene was the only survivor, finding refuge in a small air pocket a ship’s officer’s bathroom.

Illustration of JASCON 4 on the bottom.


The lone survivor began pulling paneling from the walls to use as a raft. For three days he drank Coca Cola, unable to eat or drink water, according to the BBC. Even worse, the salt water started to take the skin off his body and tongue.


“I was there in the water in total darkness just thinking it’s the end,” he said. “I kept thinking the water was going to fill up the room but it did not.”

“I prayed about a hundred times. When I was tired, I started calling on the name of God. I was just calling on His name for divine intervention. I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed,” the rescued man told the newspaper.


Despite surviving in pitch-black conditions, Okene said he knew he wasn’t alone.


“I couldn’t see anything, but I could perceive the dead bodies of my crew were nearby,” he said. “I could smell them. The fish came in and began eating the bodies. I could hear the sound. It was horror.”


DCN Diving, a Dutch  diving team, performed the rescue.  Okene heard them searching the ship and started banging on the hull.  He saw lights when the first diver swam by him.  He reached out and grabbed the second, Nico Van Heerden. Needless to say Nico was startled.  Even the diving supervisor can be heard saying, “Fuck. I don’t know what to do.”

The crew quickly regrouped and devised a plan.  A helmet was passed down and Harrison got a crash course on deep sea diving.  The divers then lead him out of the vessel and to a diving bell being used by the dive team.  After returning to the DSV Lewek Toucan, Okene was placed in a decompression chamber for another 60 hours.


“I will just attribute everything to the grace of God,” the man’s wife, Akpos Okene, said.

Psalms 91:14
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him.”