On this day in 1975, the 729-foot-long freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald sinks during a storm on Lake Superior, killing all 29 crew on board.
SS Edmund Fitzgerald (nicknamed “Mighty Fitz,” “The Fitz,” or “The Big Fitz”) was an American Great Lakes freighter launched on June 8, 1958. At the time of its launching, it was one of the first boats to be at or near maximum “St Lawrence Seaway Size” which was 730 feet (220 m) long and 75 feet (23 m) wide. From its launching in 1958 until 1971 the Fitzgerald continued to be one of the largest boats on the Great Lakes.
Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin on the afternoon of Sunday, November 9, 1975 under the command of Captain Ernest M. McSorley. It was en route to the steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, Michigan, with a full cargo of taconite. A second freighter under the command of Captain Jesse B. “Bernie” Cooper, Arthur M. Anderson, destined for Gary, Indiana out of Two Harbors, Minnesota, joined up with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, being the faster ship, took the lead while Anderson trailed not far behind. The weather forecast was not unusual for November and called for a storm to pass over eastern Lake Superior and small craft warnings.
Crossing Lake Superior at about 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph), the boats encountered a massive winter storm, reporting winds in excess of 50 knots (93 km/h; 58 mph) with gusts up to 86.9 knots (160.9 km/h; 100.0 mph) and waves as high as 35 feet (11 m). Visibility was poor due to heavy snow. The Weather Bureau upgraded the forecast to gale warnings. The freighters altered their courses northward, seeking shelter along the Canadian coast. Later, they would cross to Whitefish Bay to approach the locks.When the storm became intense, the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie were closed.
Late in the afternoon of Monday, November 10, sustained winds of 50 knots were observed across eastern Lake Superior. Anderson was struck by a 75-knot (139 km/h; 86 mph) hurricane-force gust. At 3:30 pm, Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson to report that she was taking on water and had top-side damage including that the Fitzgerald was suffering a list, and had lost two vent covers and some railings. Two of the Fitzgerald’s six bilge pumps were running continuously to discharge shipped water.
At about 3:50 pm, McSorley called the Anderson to report that his radar was not working and he asked the Anderson to keep them in sight while he checked his ship down so that the Anderson could close the gap between them. Fitzgerald was ahead of Anderson at the time, effectively blind; therefore, she slowed to come within 10 miles (16 km) range so she could receive radar guidance from the other ship. For a time the Anderson directed the Fitzgerald toward the relative safety of Whitefish Bay. McSorley contacted the U.S. Coast Guard station in Grand Marais, Michigan after 4:00 pm and then hailed any ships in the Whitefish Point area to inquire if the Whitefish Point light and navigational radio beacon were operational. Captain Cedric Woodard of the Avafors answered that both the light and radio direction beacon were out at that moment. Around 5:30 pm, Woodward called the Fitzgerald again to report that the Whitefish point light was back on but not the radio beacon. When McSorley replied to the Avafors, he commented, “We’re in a big sea. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
The last communication from the doomed ship came at approximately 7:10 pm, when Anderson notified Fitzgerald of an upbound ship and asked how it was doing. McSorley reported, “We are holding our own.” A few minutes later, it apparently sank; no distress signal was received. Ten minutes later Anderson could neither raise Fitzgerald by radio, nor detect it on radar. At 8:32 pm, Anderson was finally able to convince the U. S. Coast Guard that the Fitzgerald had gone missing. Up until that time, the Coast Guard was looking for a 16 foot outboard lost in the area. The United States Coast Guard finally took Captain Cooper of the Anderson seriously shortly after 8:30 pm. The Coast Guard then asked the Anderson to turn around and look for survivors.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions received millions of dollars from coal companies for reading chest X-rays yet rarely confirming that miners are suffering from black lung disease. This famed teaching hospital has been the subject of an investigation for the past year by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity after miners were told they didn’t have black lung and therefore could not collect benefits.
At the center of the controversy is Dr. Paul Wheeler, age 78, who is the leader of the medical unit that reads the miners’ chest X-rays and CT scans on behalf of the coal companies. Dr. Wheeler and his team of radiologists issue reports based on what they determine the X-rays show. Those reports are then used to confirm or deny whether the miner has black lung disease.
Coal companies have relied on the expertise and stellar reputation of Johns Hopkins for the past 40 years. Even though the doctors read the chest films as part of their regular duties, the university charges the coal companies up to 10 times more than what the miners pay their personal physicians. According to past judicial opinions on file with the U.S. Department of Labor, Dr. Wheeler often testifies that the findings of other doctors who had previously determined the X-rays showed black lung disease were, in fact, indications of something else such as cancer, tuberculosis and other lung diseases. As a result, the miner’s claim is denied.
Johns Hopkins has now suspended the program and Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) are working to right legislation to correct the wrong and strengthen protection of miners.
The team of All In with Chris Hayes puts out a daily request on Twitter asking their followers to send them the things they find most interesting on the internet. These are their finds for November 7, 2013.