22 Photographs Cataloging the Edmund Fitzgerald Disaster and the Dives to Rediscover the Wreckage

MPR News

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank, during a storm, in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on the Great Lakes.

The SS Fitzgerald carried taconite iron ore from the mines near Duluth, Minnesota to the iron works in Detroit, Toledo, and to other ports as well.

On November 9, with Captain Ernest M. McSorley was in command, and fully loaded with iron ore, she embarked from Superior, Wisconsin towards a steel mill near Detroit. The next day the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was caught in a tempest. The storm boasted hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 feet high. Shortly after 7:10 p.m. the ship sank to the bottom of Lake Superior 530 feet deep. She was only 17 miles from Whitefish Bay.

Her crew of 29 sailors did not survive. No bodies were recovered.

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft equipped to detect magnetic anomalies (usually meant to detect submarines) found the wreck on November 14, 1975.

From May 20-28, 1976, the U.S. Navy dove the wreck using the unmanned submersible, CURV-III. They found the Edmund Fitzgerald lying in two large pieces. In 1980, Jean-Michael Cousteau (son of Jacques Cousteau), sent two divers from their ship, the RV Calypso, in the first manned submersible dive.

In 1989, the Michigan Sea Grant Program organized a three-day dive to survey the Fitzgerald. The primary objective was to record a 3D videotape for use in museums, educational programs, and promotional videos.

In 1994, diver Fred Shannon and organized a privately funded dive. Shannon’s dive group discovered the remains of a crew member still wearing his life vest.

On July 4th, 1995, a dive team recovered the SS Edmund Fitzgerald’s bell after 20 years of being at the bottom of Lake Superior.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was built at the Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge and launched in 1958. Great Lakes Maritime Institute
The new Edmund Fitzgerald about to be entered into the water, June 7, 1958. imgur
The largest and longest vessel ever built on the Great Lakes, the 729-foot ore carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald, slides into the launching basin, on June 7, 1958, in Detroit, Michigan. Two more months of interior work remain, before the $8,000,000 ship is put into service. Her capacity will be 26,000 tons and her speed up to 16 miles per hour. AP
The deck and cockpit of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Great Lakes Maritime Institute
The Edmund Fitzgerald docked. MLive
The Edmund Fitzgerald in comparison to two other ships on Lake Superior. Pinterest
The iron ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank to the bottom of Lake Superior during a hurricane-like storm on the night of Nov. 10, 1975. Great Lakes Maritime Institute
The U.S. Navy remotely operated vehicle CURV-III was brought in to survey the Edmund Fitzgerald wreckage in spring 1976. Fred Stonehouse, U.S. Coast Guard
Father Theodore J. Brodeur sprinkles holy water on the research submarine Delta Monday, July 25, 1994, in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the day before a series of dives on the Edmund Fitzgerald. AP Photo
Researches prepare to embark in the research submarine Celia on the first dive of the day Monday, July 4, 1994, to explore the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior at Whitefish Point, Mich. AP
This photograph shows the Edmund Fitzgerald’s pilot house. The ship’s final resting place is 530 feet beneath the surface of Lake Superior, 17 miles off Whitefish Point on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
Image of the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck taken during a dive in 1995 to recover the ship’s bell. The ship sank in a storm off Whitefish Point in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975. Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
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  • TaxiManSteve

    The 12th photo is not of the Fitz. It looks like a rendition of another, older wreck probably located by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum divers.

    • Jacob Miller

      Thank you for pointing this out. Corrections have been made.

    • drquantum

      So it’s another one that has a name with the letters ‘und Fitzgerald’ written on it? Perhaps the “Harald und Fitzgerald”, or the “Hildegard und Fitzgerald”??

      • drquantum

        Or are you referring to the one of the screw? How do you know it’s not the Fitzgerald’s screw?

    • TaxiManSteve

      They took it down. Photo once there had divers on an older wreck. Not something you’d see at 500 feet. Well, good for them self-correcting.

  • soapysmith

    What a night that was

  • Brian Stover

    I never new they recovered a body,,i wonder if they left him down there, as it would be his grave so to speak

    • TaxiManSteve

      Actually one of the early exploration did have a photo of a lower body part and it was photographed. It didn’t go over too well so it wasn’t continued to be made available.

    • Karen Richards

      Yes, they left him down there. The wreck is in Canadian waters and is a protected site.