The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings

2019

Edited by Michael Schumacher

The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald

A documentary drawn from testimony at the Coast Guard’s official inquiry looks anew at one of the most storied, and mysterious, shipwrecks in American history

The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the most famous and mysterious shipwreck stories in Great Lakes history. In The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Michael Schumacher mines the controversial final report that came from the investigation into the wreck, producing the first-ever documentary account—a companion to his narrative Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

This was a very eye-opening read. Among the many hundreds of Great Lakes maritime books, I am not aware of any writers using the words of witnesses and participants in such a significant way. Michael Schumacher did an amazing job culling through all the testimony and then organizing and presenting the words of others in an understandable fashion with enough of his own interjection to link the testimony together. And it is ingenious how he encourages and then provides the readers with just the right amount of key testimony to be able to serve as juror and make their own determination of what caused this massive ship to sink. Well done!

Valerie van Heest, maritime historian and author

The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the most famous shipwreck stories in Great Lakes history. It is also one of maritime lore’s great mysteries, the details of its disappearance as obscure now as on that fateful November day in 1975. The investigation into the wreck, resulting in a controversial final report, generated more than 3,000 pages of documentation, a mere fraction of which has been made available to the public. In The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Michael Schumacher mines this rich resource to produce the first-ever documentary account, a companion to his popular narrative Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

In the words of search and rescue personnel, ship designers and inspectors, scientists and naval engineers, former crewmen of the Fitz and the Arthur M. Anderson (the nearby ore carrier that captured the damaged vessel’s last communications), The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald recreates the doomed ore boat’s final minutes, the suspense of the search and rescue operations, and the drama of the subsequent Coast Guard inquiry. From the Anderson’s captain and first mate we hear reports of the Fitzgerald taking on water in the fierce storm near Michipicoten and Caribou Islands, losing its radar, and stating, finally, famously, “We are holding our own.” We follow the investigation, the speculation, and expert testimony to a problematic conclusion—countered by an alternate theory that the Anderson’s captain maintained to his dying day.

By declaring the Edmund Fitzgerald an official gravesite, Canada closed the wreck to further exploration. But here the exploration continues, providing a unique, and uniquely enlightening, perspective on this unforgettable episode in America’s maritime history.
The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Michael Schumacher has written four previous books on Great Lakes shipwrecks: Mighty Fitz, November’s Fury, Torn in Two (all from Minnesota), and Wreck of the Carl D. He has written narratives for twenty-five Great Lakes shipwreck and lighthouse documentary films. He lives in Wisconsin.

The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Thanks to The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald, readers are privy to the thoughts of crew members of other ships, not to mention ship designers, inspectors, naval engineers and search & rescue personnel, all of whom provided their perspective to investigators in the wake of the accident.

Failure Magazine

This was a very eye-opening read. Among the many hundreds of Great Lakes maritime books, I am not aware of any writers using the words of witnesses and participants in such a significant way. Michael Schumacher did an amazing job culling through all the testimony and then organizing and presenting the words of others in an understandable fashion with enough of his own interjection to link the testimony together. And it is ingenious how he encourages and then provides the readers with just the right amount of key testimony to be able to serve as juror and make their own determination of what caused this massive ship to sink. Well done!

Valerie van Heest, maritime historian and author

If you think you have read everything there is that’s worth reading on the Fitzgerald, think again. Once you start reading, it will be hard to put down.

Detroit Marine Historian

The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Contents

Preface

Map of Lake Superior

The Witnesses

Glossary

I. The Loss

Loading the Boat

Weather Predictions

The Arthur M. Anderson

The Seas

Dangerous Shoals

Cooper’s Close Call

The Whitefish Point Lighthouse

The Final Minutes

The Search

The Oil Slick

Finding the Wreckage

II. The Investigation

The Edmund Fitzgerald

Captain Ernest McSorley

Was the Fitzgerald Seaworthy?

Stress and Stability

The Hatches

Storm Damage to the Fitzgerald

Lifesaving Equipment

What Happened? The Experts Weigh In

Final Remarks

Postscript

III. The Documents

United States Coast Guard Marine Casualty Report

Commandant’s Action

1. Findings of Fact

2. Vessel Data

3. Record of Missing Crewmen

4. Weather

5. The Last Voyage

6. Search Effort

7. Search Results

8. Pollution

9. Underwater Search and Survey

10. History and Maintenance

11. Lifesaving Equipment

12. Load Line and Stability

13. Cargo and Loading Procedure

14. Inspections

15. Outages to Aids to Navigation

16. Hydrographic Survey

Conclusions

Recommendations

Lake Carriers’ Association Letter of Dissent

National Transportation Safety Board Marine Accident Report

Introduction

Synopsis

Investigation

Analysis

Conclusions

Recommendations

Index