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35 Years Later: Bell To Toll For Edmund Fitzgerald Victims

Edmund Fitzgerald

The Edmund Fitzgerald was wrecked in a storm in 1975. (CBS)

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UPDATED 11/10/10 7:35 a.m.

(WBBM) – A bell will toll 29 times Wednesday, once for each crew member of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. It was 35 years ago today when the iron ore freighter sank during a fierce storm on Lake Superior.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Regine Schlesinger Reports

The Nov. 10, 1975, disaster, immortalized in the song by Gordon Lightfoot, remains the most investigated shipwreck ever on the Great Lakes. Yet, 35 years later, Tom Farnquist, executive director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, says the exact cause remains unknown. “The mystery lives on.”

Farnquist says investigators haven’t been able to figure out why the Fitzgerald went down so suddenly, without a single distress call.

“They’d reported some topside damage and they were having some problems but it literally disappeared off the radar screen of the ship following 10 miles behind without a single cry for help,” Fanquist said.

Farnquist isn’t sure we’ll ever know all the answers. “We studied hours and hours of high definition video, captured every inch of the vessel and we still can’t come up with an explanation.”

The Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest freighter sailing on the Great Lakes when she was christened in June 1958, according to the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald online. On the fateful night she went down, the veteran freigther was hauling taconite pellets from Superior, Wis., to a steel mill on Zug Island near Detroit.

While in Lake Superior, the ship ran into a storm that to this day is ranked one of the worst ever on the Great Lakes. Heavy snow hampered visibility, and hurricane-force winds gusting at 86.9 knots placed the ship in danger.

As the ship sailed on the afternoon of Nov. 10, Capt. Ernest M. McSorley reported that his radar had gone down and the ship had sustained damage to her topside.

The last communication with the Fitzgerald came from the S.S. Arthur M. Anderson, the other ship that was trailing behind. At 7:10 p.m., the captain of the Anderson asked McSorley how he was “making out with (his) problem.”

“We are holding our own,” McSorley replied. Anderson Capt. Jesse B. Cooper said, “We’ll be talking to you later,” but that never happened. The Anderson soon lost communication with the Fitzgerald, and the next time the mighty freighter was seen, she had been wrecked.

There’s more information at www.shipwreckmuseum.com